Wall Street Journal report alleges Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick knew about harassment

The embattled company finds itself under fire yet again for fostering toxic and dangerous workplace.

Content warning: this article touches on allegations of rape, assault, and threats of violence.

Today, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick came under fire yet again for alleged sexual misconduct at the company. According to a new Wall Street Journal exposé, Kotick was aware for years of allegations of sexual assault and harassment and intetionally witheld the knowledge from the Board of Directors. The report also claims that Kotick even went so far as to lessen punishments against executives who had been accused of misconduct.

Specific incidents involve a pair of Activision Blizzard-owned studios on the Call of Duty development rotation: Sledgehammer Games and Treyarch have both been implicated in the potential coverup scandal, expanding the scope of allegations beyond just the Blizzard side of the business.

In the wake of the bombshell report, Kotick released a video message addressing the allegations, stating that Activision Blizzard “has taken meaningful actions to improve our company and our culture. But there is more to do. To become the model workplace we all aspire to be, more change is required. But I am so confident we will get there.”

Additionally, a statement has been disseminated among the games press, claiming that the Wall Street Journal report presents a “misleading view of Activision Blizzard and our CEO. Instances of sexual misconduct that were brought to his attention were acted upon. The WSJ ignores important changes underway to make this the industry’s most welcoming and inclusive workplace and it fails to account for the efforts of thousands of employees who work hard every day to live up to their--and our--values.” 

According to tweets from Kirsten Grind, one of the journalists behind the WSJ report, Kotick said that he would have an employee killed, and that he worked to cover up accusations of rape by company employees. Also, Jen Oneal, who took on a co-leadership role at Blizzard following the departure of J. Allen Brackin August, has claimed that her pay was less than Mike Ybarra, her counterpart for the position. Oneal left the company earlier this month.

The report compounds existing legal troubles for Activision Blizzard, who has already been the target of a lawsuit from California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing, and an investigation from the SEC. Additionally, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued the company last month for not promptly addressing allegations of harassment, but that case was settled out of court for $18 million.

For a legal perspective on these developments, GameDaily reached out to attorney Richard Hoeg, who said that the allegations leveled at Kotick paint a picture of dysfunction for Activision Blizzard’s leadership team.

“Potentially this shows dysfunction in the corporate governance structure which could present additional avenues of attack from various of the regulatory bodies at issue here,” Hoeg told GameDaily. “But the primary ramification is practical. Mr. Kotick is cast in a very bad light, and that might well mean that he becomes more of a burden than a benefit for the company.”

Many on social media are calling for Kotick to step down from Activision Blizzard, but Hoeg said that Kotick’s relationship with board members and shareholders will determine this possibility.

“Make no mistake, it is a bombshell report, but they might yet decide to position everything as having happened in the past, and issue denials on some of the biggest claims--namely that Mr. Kotick was not communicating properly,” he explained. 

It’s important to note that shareholders cannot be implicated in the accusations leveled at Kotick. Hoeg explained that they don’t have a duty to govern the operations of the company, and their liability is limited to the amount they have paid for their shares. 

“Mr. Kotick could be implicated as directly responsible for some of the issues, and the board itself could have its own problems if they are deemed to have been insufficiently curious about the operations of their own company,” he said. “They have a duty of care which is at least capable of being questioned based on a report like this one.”

In all, the Wall Street Journal report is a particularly disturbing and damning chapter in the ongoing saga of Activision Blizzard’s legal and moral troubles. We haven’t heard the last of it by far, so expect further developments soon.

Update 11/16/2021:

Activision Blizzard's Board of Directors have responded to the Wall Street Journal report, confirming that Bobby Kotick will remain in place as CEO. 

"The goals we have set for ourselves are both critical and ambitious. The Board remains confident in Bobby Kotick's leadership, commitment and ability to achieve these goals,” the statement reads.

Update 11/17/2021:

In the wake of this week's bombshell WSJ report, several Activision Blizzard shareholders have called for the resignation of CEO Bobby Kotick in a letter. As reported by The Washington Post, the letter also demands the retirement of the two longest-serving members of the Board of Directors. As per the letter, if Activision Blizzard fails to meet these demands, the shareholders will not vote for the reelection of the current directors.

 

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Editor-in-Chief

Sam, the Editor-in-Chief of GameDaily.biz, is a former freelance game reporter. He's been seen at IGN, PCGamesN, PCGamer, Unwinnable, and many more. When not writing about games, he is most likely taking care of his two dogs or pretending to know a lot about artisan coffee. Get in touch with Sam by emailing him at  sdesatoff@rektglobal.com or follow him on Twitter.