A new report in the Wall Street Journal Details of other incidents of harassment and sexual harassment at Activision-Blizzard, some dating back to 2006. The report, which Activision today called “inaccurate” in its own statement, describes Jen Oneal’s brief reign as Blizzard co-leader and why she is and includes allegations about CEO Bobby Kotick’s own behavior and how management has responded to such issues in the past.
Jen Oneal was Promoted to co-chief of Blizzard in August 2021making her the first woman to lead a division of Activision. This has been widely viewed as a positive move for Blizzard amid these dire allegations and ugliness. A few months later, Oneal comes out as someone who has experienced the harassment herself and announces her intention to leave: This is just mind blowing.
In September 2021, Oneal emailed an Activision attorney to announce her intention to step down, saying, “It was clear the company would never prioritize our employees,” claiming she was at the beginning of her career Sexually molested at Activision, and paid less than her male co-boss Mike Ybarra. “I’ve been symbolized, marginalized, and discriminated against,” wrote Oneal.
It was announced on November 2nd that Oneal is leaving Blizzard at the end of the year.
The main allegations against Kotick are that he left a threatening voicemail on an assistant’s phone in 2006 threatening to have her killed. The assistant complained and Kotick settled the matter out of court. Activision spokeswoman Helaine Klasky told the WSJ: “Mr. Kotick was quick to apologize for the apparently hyperbolic and inappropriate voicemail 16 years ago and to this day deeply regrets the exaggeration and tone of his voicemail.”
Another allegation is that Kotick personally intervened in the case of Dan Bunting, then co-head of Activision’s Treyarch studio, a major part of the Call of Duty series. Bunting was accused by a staff member of sexually molesting her in 2017 after a night of partying. Activision opened an internal investigation in 2019 when this was reported and recommended firing Bunting, but Kotick intervened to keep him. Instead, Bunting was advised and allowed to stay with Activision. However, after the WSJ began inquiring about the incident, Bunting has now left Activision.
The report elaborates on allegations of rape against Javier Panameno, a supervisor for Sledgehammer Games. The prosecutor’s attorney alleged that he also sexually molested a second woman in the studio. The employee who accused him of the assault reported the incident to police in 2017: no charges were brought. The attacks were reported to Activision in 2018 and Panemeno was released two months later.
The prosecutor’s attorney added that while her client did not report the incidents to Activision prior to her departure in November 2017, she reported them to Sledgehammer’s human resources department while she was at the company.
The report also alleges that former Blizzard technology chief Ben Kilgore faced multiple allegations of sexual harassment over several years and lied during an internal investigation into a relationship with a lower-level employee. Kilgore was fired in 2018 with Kotick’s consent.
Kotick was summoned by the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate how the company handled wrongdoing and disclosed it (so it is very important what Kotick knew when and what he told others such as the board of directors).
According to WSJ, “The board was overshadowed by the allegations in the California lawsuit, including that an Activision employee killed herself after a photo of her vagina was allegedly circulated at a company party, according to people familiar with the board. “
Activision’s board of directors said in a statement that it was “informed at all times of the status of regulatory issues.”
At the time, an email from Frances Townsend, one of the company’s female executives, was circulating among Activision-Blizzard employees. Townsend would take a tremendous amount of flak for that email, and Kotick traced the statement and named it “unmusical.”
Bobby Kotick drafted this statement and instructed Townsend to send it. Townsend had to apologize to a women’s group she led and was asked to resign, which she did. “This mistake should not be blamed on Ms. Townsend,” said Activision spokeswoman Helaine Klasky.
These new revelations need to be seen in a broader context the allegations against Activision-Blizzard and various ongoing legal actions. The company is on trial against the California Department for Fair Employment and Housing and faces allegations that it Complaints from female employees about harassment, sexual harassment and discrimination are routinely ignored. The WSJ claims that since the action began in July, Activision has received more than 500 HR complaints from current and former employees alleging “harassment, sexual assault, bullying, wage differentials and other issues”.
Shortly after the WSJ article went live, Activision-Blizzard released a statement that previously circulated among staff. In it Kotick writes:
“Today there is an article that paints an inaccurate and misleading view of our company, me personally and my leadership.
“I would like to say two important things about this. First, we are incredibly fortunate to have the most talented people in our industry, all of whom are so committed to continuous improvement. And I share this commitment. The second thing I want to say is that anyone who questions my belief in being the most welcoming, inclusive place to work doesn’t really know how important it is to me. “
If you thought Bobby Kotick’s income was high of $ 155 million in 2020, see what he would make if Activision replaced him. (see highlight) pic.twitter.com/CWixrPr8TAJune 23, 2021
Kotick went on to say that Activision-Blizzard “is moving forward with a new zero tolerance policy for inappropriate behavior – and zero means zero. Any reprehensible behavior is simply unacceptable opportunities for us to change. And we all, including me, need to embrace this need for change so that we can bring our best to the best place to work. “
Activision-Blizzard’s own separate response to the story reiterated: “We are disappointed with the Wall Street Journal report which is a misleading view of Activision Blizzard and our CEO. Cases of sexual misconduct that came to its attention have been covered.”
The studio remains trapped in multiple court cases on charges of harassment spanning several years. Kotick has always been a part of this story insofar as it involves an institutional problem of the company that he has built into an institution, but until then he was in the typical CEO position of making statements and promising change. This report questions his conduct and decision-making in relation to serious allegations of harassment and whether senior executives were ever preferred.
Activision-Blizzard continues to deny these allegations on several fronts, but its own board of directors will now ask the obvious question: Kotick made Activision what it is, but is he the man who can turn this chapter in its history? We may get the answer sooner than you think.