Activision Blizzard fired 20 employees for ‘patterns’ of harassment and discrimination

The Activision Blizzard booth at the 2013 E3 expo in Los Angeles
  • Activision Blizzard has fired 20 employees over harassment and discrimination issues.
  • Activision disciplined another 20 employees and announced a variety of internal changes.
  • The changes follow a lawsuit, SEC investigation, and employee walkout over widespread cultural issues.

Video game giant Activision Blizzard has fired 20 employees and disciplined another 20 workers over harassment and gender discrimination issues, the Financial Times first reported Tuesday.

Frances Townsend, Activision’s chief compliance officer, told the FT that a months-long investigation had determined certain employees had exhibited “patterns” of misconduct that justified termination, while others were reprimanded for behavior the company believed could be addressed through additional training.

Townsend also told the FT that most of the misconduct happened off-site at events involving alcohol, and that several game developers and managers were let go, but that no one from Activision’s board was fired.

In a memo sent to staff and published on its website Tuesday, Townsend announced a variety of internal changes, including that Activision will triple its spending on training resources, hire 19 full-time roles for its ethics and compliance team, and restructure its investigations team to be separate from its human resources and employee relations teams.

The announcement comes as Activision has faced widespread allegations of gender-based harassment and discrimination that have sparked employee backlash in recent months.

In July, the state of California sued Activision, following a two-year investigation into the company, accusing it of fostering a “pervasive frat boy” culture where women are paid less for the same jobs that men perform, regularly face sexual harassment, and are targeted for reporting issues.

The suit also said that female employees at Activision face “constant sexual harassment,” from “having to continually fend off unwanted sexual comments” to “being groped,” and that no action was taken on issues reported to human resources and management.

Townsend and other Activision executives, including CEO Bobby Kotick, initially downplayed the claims in the lawsuit, leading more than 2,000 employees to co-sign a letter calling the company’s response “abhorrent and insulting.”

Kotick later issued a statement calling the initial responses “tone deaf,” but hundreds of employees still walked out the following day to demand more systemic changes.

In September, the Securities and Exchange Commission opened its own investigation into Activision over how the company handled employees’ allegations, issuing subpoenas to multiple employees. Activision has said it is cooperating with the SEC’s investigation.

Some of the changes employees called for over the summer, such as dropping mandatory arbitration clauses from employee contracts, were not addressed in Townsend’s memo on Tuesday.

Townsend told the FT that more changes are coming and that “Kotick and the Board basically gave me a blank check.”