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Activision Blizzard CEO knew about misconduct at the company for years, claims report

Content warning: This article contains references to sexual harassment and sexual assault.

Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick knew about the allegations of sexual harassment at the company for years, and yet failed to make these details known to the board of directors and executives, and even worked to protect those accused of abuse. Furthermore, there are now allegations against Bobby Kotick himself, including an account of threatening to have one of his assistants killed.

That’s all according to a damning new report from the Wall Street Journal, which shares new details about Kotick’s awareness of and involvement in abuse at Activision Blizzard.

For instance, the WSJ reports that Treyarch co-head Dan Bunting was accused of sexually harassing a female employee in 2017. After Activision’s human-resources department and other supervisors recommended that he be fired following an internal investigation, Kotick intervened to keep him at the company. Bunting was given counselling and allowed to remain at the company, though left after the WSJ inquired about the allegations.

The report also claims that a former employee at Sledgehammer Games, an Activision-owned studio, had been raped in 2016 and 2017 by her male supervisor, after being pressured into drinking in the office and at work events.

The female employee reported the incident to Sledgehammer’s human-resources department as well as her other supervisors, but according to the employee’s lawyer, no action was taken.  After the employee threatened to sue, the company reached an out of court settlement and the supervisor was terminated.

In a further example of the company protecting those accused of abuse, former Blizzard technology chief Ben Kilgore was accused of multiple counts of sexually harassing female employees over several years. During a company investigation, Kilgore lied about whether he had a relationship with a lower-level employee.

While he was fired, in a move approved by Kotick, former Blizzard head Michael Morhaime sent an email to employees thanking Kilgore for for his many contributions over the last four and a half years.” This upset employees, who had been told not to discuss the reasons for Kilgore’s departure from the company.

The report claims that Kotick was aware of the allegations of abuse at the company, and did not inform the board of directors about what he knew – even once regulators began investigating in 2018. What exactly Kotick knew about the incidents at the company, and what he told other employees and the board of directors is part of the Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into the company.

Kotick himself is accused of misconduct by the WSJ. In the report, it is claimed that in 2006 Kotick harassed one of his assistants, including by threatening to have her killed in a threatening voice mail. The matter was settled out of court, according to people familiar with the matter.

An Activision Blizzard spokesperson told the WSJ that “Mr. Kotick quickly apologized 16 years ago for the obviously hyperbolic and inappropriate voice mail, and he deeply regrets the exaggeration and tone in his voice mail to this day.”

Kotick was sued in 2007 by a flight attendant on the private jet he co-owned. According to the flight attendant, she had been sexually harassed by the pilot, and when she complained to the jet’s other owned, Kotick fired her. The defendants denied these accusations.

In a separate action related to legal fees in the case, an arbitrator, in what he said was sworn testimony, wrote that Kotick had told the flight attendant and her attorneys that “I’m going to destroy you.” A spokesperson for Kotick denied that he said this.

The report also gives further details about the departure of former Blizzard co-head Jennifer Oneal, who recently left the company after just three months. Just one month after being appointed co-head, Oneal reportedly sent an email to Activision’s legal team, professing a lack of faith in the company’s leadership to address their toxic culture, saying “it was clear that the company would never prioritize our people the right way.”

In the email, Oneal said that she had been sexually harassed earlier in her career at Activision, and that she was being paid less than her fellow, male, co-head, and that she wanted to discuss her resignation.

“I have been tokenized, marginalized, and discriminated against,” wrote Oneal.

Oneal also described an Activision party she attended in 2007 with Kotick, in which women danced on stripper poles. A DJ at the party is reported as having encouraged female attendees to drink heavily so that the men would enjoy themselves more. Kotick says that he does not remember such a party.

In reponse to the WSJ report, Activision Blizzard released a statement denying the allegations.

“We are disappointed in the Wall Street Journal’s report, which presents an inaccurate and 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. The constant desire to be better has always set this company apart. Which is why, at Mr. Kotick’s direction, we have made significant improvements, including a zero-tolerance policy for inappropriate conduct. And it is why we are moving forward with unwavering focus, speed, and resources to continue increasing diversity across our company and industry and to ensure that every employee comes to work feeling valued, safe, respected, and inspired. We will not stop until we have the best workplace for our team.”

Activision’s board of directors is, shamefully, standing behind Kotick. Despite the numerous allegations, and the crisis the company has been engulfed in under his leadership, the board “remains confident” in Kotick’s “leadership, commitment and ability.”

“The Activision Blizzard Board remains committed to the goal of making Activision Blizzard the most welcoming and inclusive company in the industry. Under Bobby Kotick’s leadership the Company is already implementing industry leading changes including a zero tolerance harassment policy, a dedication to achieving significant increases to the percentages of women and non-binary people in our workforce and significant internal and external investments to accelerate opportunities for diverse talent. The Board remains confident that Bobby Kotick appropriately addressed workplace issues brought to his attention.

“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.”

About Chris Wallace

Chris is a freelancer writer and was MCV/DEVELOP's staff writer from November 2019 until May 2022. He joined the team after graduating from Cardiff University with a Master's degree in Magazine Journalism. He can be found on Twitter at @wallacec42, where he mostly explores his obsession with the Life is Strange series, for which he refuses to apologise.

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