Nearly a year after an explosive lawsuit by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing kicked off a firestorm of sexual harassment and discrimination allegations at Activision Blizzard, a Board of Directors working group investigating the company has released its findings. Led by a 25-year veteran of the Call of Duty publisher, the group concluded there was never any “systemic issue with harassment, discrimination or retaliation” at Activision Blizzard.
“Contrary to many of the allegations, the Board and its external advisors have determined that there is no evidence to suggest that Activision Blizzard senior executives ever intentionally ignored or attempted to downplay the instances of gender harassment that occurred and were reported,” the Workplace Responsibility Committee wrote to shareholders in a June 16 SEC filing. “While there are some substantiated instances of gender harassment, those unfortunate circumstances do not support the conclusion that Activision senior leadership or the Board were aware of and tolerated gender harassment or that there was ever a systemic issue with harassment, discrimination, or retaliation.”
These findings are aimed squarely at refuting allegations in the DFEH lawsuit and those raised in a November 2021 Wall Street Journal investigation. The latter reported that Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick failed to report a 2018 settlement with an alleged rape victim at Call of Duty: Vanguard maker Sledgehammer Games to the company’s Board.
The report also claimed Kotick threatened to have his female assistant killed in a 2006 voicemail and interfered to prevent the co-head of Call of Duty: Black Ops studio Treyarch, Dan Bunting, from being fired for alleged sexual harassment. An Activision spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal at the time that Kotick had always kept the Board informed, apologized to the assistant for the hyperbolic language, and that Bunting was properly disciplined when the incident occurred. However, the Wall Street Journal reported that he resigned from the company shortly after it asked about the allegations. Bunting denies this. “Mr. Bunting’s departure had nothing to do with those allegations,” his lawyer, Bobby Schwartz, told Kotaku in a statement, calling the insinuation “false” and “harmful,” but not disputing the timeline.
The Board’s summary says its investigation was based on email communications, contemporaneous notes, and other source documents, as well as fresh interviews with current and former employees. But the Board members don’t go into much more detail about the extent of the investigation, how it was conducted, or what raw data was furnished to outside consultants like former EEOC chair Gilbert Casellas, who concluded that there was “no widespread harassment, pattern or practice of harassment, or systemic harassment at Activision Blizzard or at any of its business units [between September 1, 2016 and December 31, 2021].”
It’s unclear how many total current and former employees were interviewed as part of the investigation, why it was limited to only the last five years, or how much Casella was paid. Casella and Activision Blizzard did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The summary is also hard to square with the landmark $18 million settlement with the EEOC for recent victims of harassment and discrimination at the company. “What we have come to realize over the past several months is that there are many truths about our company—individual and collective, experiential and data-driven—and sometimes they can be difficult to reconcile,” the Board writes. It does not elaborate on the details or nature of those opposing “truths,” but goes on to complain about being wrongly maligned by an “unrelenting barrage of media criticism.”
The rest of the group’s findings are dedicated to forward looking statements about new best practices being put in place like a new Ethics & Compliance and a zero-tolerance harassment policy. In some cases, these initiatives appear to have been a response to employee demands marshaled together by the ABK Workers Alliance. And in others, they have fallen short of those asks. Current and former Activision Blizzard staff are still calling on the company to directly involve it in the decision making process for stamping out harassment and discrimination at the company.
Some employees have already won that right legally through a successful union election for QA developers at its Raven Software studio. Currently in the midst of bargaining their first contract, Microsoft, set to buy Activision Blizzard for $69 billion, recently announced it would remain neutral on union matters as part of its pitch to regulators tasked with approving the acquisition.
Update: 6/17/22, 4:35 p.m. ET: Added comment from Bunting’s lawyer and clarified the allegations against him were alleged.