The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has reportedly launched a wide-reaching investigation into Activision Blizzard, with the government agency looking into how the embattled publisher handled the multiple allegations of sexual harassment, abuse, and toxic behavior that became public following a California Department of Fair Employment and Housing lawsuit filed in July. The SEC has subpoenaed Activision and several of its high-ranking execs, including CEO Bobby Kotick.
In a report out today by the Wall Street Journal, it was revealed the SEC has begun investigating Activision Blizzard and is asking for the Call of Duty and Warcraft publisher to hand over various documents. These include the personnel files of six previous employees and records of CEO Kotick’s communications with executives relating to the numerous complaints of sexual harassment and discrimination levied against Activision Blizzard staff.
Activision spokesperson Helaine Klasky confirmed with the Wall Street Journal on Monday that the SEC was indeed investigating the massive gaming publisher, telling the outlet that SEC is focused on “the company’s disclosures regarding employment matters and related issues.” She also confirmed that several current and former employees had been subpoenaed by the federal agency. “The company is cooperating with the SEC,” said Klasky.
Kotaku has contacted Activision Blizzard about the SEC investigation.
The investigation is not necessarily about finding justice for the victims of the horrible abuse, but instead about looking out for the company’s investors who probably aren’t happy about its recent cycle of bad news. The WSJ explains that the SEC is investigating to figure out whether Activision and its executives correctly and adequately disclosed allegations of workplace harassment and gender-pay issues to investors and other related individuals and if these disclosures happened quickly enough, according to the documents seen by the outlet.
This is yet another serious legal problem facing Activision Blizzard, one of the largest gaming publishers in the world.
In July, a lawsuit filed by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing after a years-long investigation turned up stories of multiple women suffering daily harassment and abuse while working at Activision Blizzard. This has led to multiple execs apologizing or even leaving the company. Blizzard games containing the names of abusers are being scrubbed by devs to remove the offenders from the live games. Investors filed a second lawsuit against the publisher in August, over the timing of when Activision Blizzard disclosed its ongoing problems with sexual harassment and discrimination.
The fallout from the California lawsuit and the resulting allegations of abuse and toxic behavior has led to employees walking out, more stories of workplace abuse becoming public, players and streamers boycotting games like World of Warcraft, and greatly increased talk of unionization.
Activision Blizzard sent a statement to the WSJ addressing the SEC investigation and the ongoing pressure Activision Blizzard faces from lawsuits and government agencies:
We have made and are making a number of important changes to improve our policies and procedures to ensure that there is no place anywhere in our company for discrimination, harassment, or unequal treatment of any kind.
Meanwhile, Activision hired union-busting firm WilmerHale to review its handling of harassment and other issues around the fallout from the lawsuit. It’s interesting to note that the person leading that review happens to be Stephanie Avakian, who was the SEC’s Division of Enforcement Director up until this past February, when she left to rejoin WilmerHale and oversee its team for protecting businesses from government litigation.
Update, 09/21/2021 6:10 p.m. ET: Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick responded to these latest events earlier today, claiming that leadership is “deeply committed to making Activision Blizzard one of the best, most inclusive places to work anywhere.”
“There is absolutely no place anywhere in our company for discrimination, harassment, or unequal treatment of any kind,” Kotick continued. “While we continue to work in good faith with regulators to address and resolve past workplace issues, we also continue to move ahead with our own initiatives to ensure that we are the very best place to work. We remain committed to addressing all workplace issues in a forthright and prompt manner.”