Employees at Activision Blizzard are calling for CEO Bobby Kotick’s job after The Wall Street Journal dropped a bombshell story on Tuesday, in which the paper reported that Kotick knew about allegations of sexual misconduct and assault but didn’t tell his board.
The story also outlined alleged harassment involving Kotick personally, including that he once left a voicemail for an assistant threatening “to have her killed.” He ultimately settled with the accuser, the Journal wrote. An Activision spokesperson said Kotick previously apologized for the “hyperbolic” comments.
More than 100 employees, many at Activision’s Santa Monica headquarters, joined a walkout on Tuesday protesting the company’s leadership, a current employee told The Daily Beast.
In dealing with the fallout, Activision has taken a defensive posture. The video game giant behind hit franchises like Call of Duty published a statement decrying the article as “misleading” and claiming that it “ignores important changes underway to make this the industry’s most welcoming and inclusive workplace.”
That is basically the same approach Activision took over the summer, when the State of California filed a harassment and gender discrimination lawsuit against the company over a reputed “frat boy” culture that tolerated “blatant sexual harassment without repercussions.”
The lawsuit documented a number of disturbing anecdotes, such as the case of a female staffer who died by suicide after allegedly suffering mistreatment. Male employees allegedly had shared a photo of her vagina with each other at a holiday party.
At the time the suit was filed, an Activision spokesperson called many of the claims “distorted” or false, while Frances Townsend, the firm’s executive vice president for corporate affairs, described the litigation as “truly meritless and irresponsible.”
Some employees were incensed by that reaction, and in July they staged a walkout. “The statements being made do not reflect the [feelings] of the employees,” a worker told The Daily Beast over the summer.
The next month Activision promoted Jennifer Oneal, a veteran staffer who is Asian-American and gay, to become co-head of Blizzard. That made her the “first woman to lead one of the company’s business units,” the Journal reported.
But she didn’t last long in the role. Several weeks later, she reportedly emailed a person in Acitivison’s legal department expressing disillusionment “that the company would never prioritize our people the right way.
“I have been tokenized, marginalized, and discriminated against,” Oneal added of her experience at the company. She resigned earlier this month.
The Journal report, which cited internal documents and interviews with former Activision employees, found that Kotick “knew about allegations of employee misconduct in many parts of the company” but didn’t sufficiently act. Activision’s board was apparently “blindsided” by the California lawsuit in July.
The board is nonetheless sticking by him. In a statement, board members wrote that they remain “confident that Bobby Kotick appropriately addressed workplace issues brought to his attention” and that they believe he has the “leadership, commitment and ability” to further improve the corporate culture.
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,” they added.
That optimism clearly does not align with some of the rank-and-file. As part of the walkout, activists reiterated their demand for a third-party investigation into the company selected by “an employee-chosen source.”
Kotick, 58, bought a stake in Activision in the early 1990s when it was worth less than $500,000. His shares are now worth nine figures—but Tuesday’s controversy put a dent in his fortune, as Activision’s stock fell more than 6%.