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Activision Blizzard fired 20 employees over harassment claims

Activision Blizzard, the $60bn gaming giant behind Call of Duty and Candy Crush, has fired 20 employees in an attempt to clean up its culture following allegations of widespread gender-based discrimination and harassment.

In a letter sent to staff on Tuesday, the company said it has also reprimanded 20 individuals and will expand its ethics and compliance team, which is tasked with creating a “more accountable workplace”.

In August, hundreds of Activision Blizzard workers walked out in protest after management dismissed a California state lawsuit describing a “pervasive ‘frat boy’ workplace culture” as “irresponsible” and “inaccurate”.

Chief executive Bobby Kotick later acknowledged management’s response to the allegations was “tone deaf”. The California case is ongoing, while the Securities and Exchange Commission last month opened an investigation into the discrimination claims.

Frances Townsend, a former US Homeland Security adviser who was named Activision Blizzard’s chief compliance officer in March, declined to name any individuals who have left the company as a result of disciplinary action, citing legal reasons.

However, she told the FT that they included several game developers and a few supervisors, adding that none of the firings were from the company’s board.

Citing a months-long investigation, Townsend said Santa Monica-based Activision Blizzard found misconduct across several parts of the business.

“We call it as we see it,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what your rank is, what your job is. If you’ve committed some sort of misconduct or you’re a leader who has tolerated a culture that is not consistent with our values, we’re going to take action. The impact on the business is not a consideration.”

Townsend said she made a distinction between “patterns” of misconduct she deemed to warrant termination and one-off instances that she hoped could be rectified with training.

The vast majority of misconduct, Townsend said, occurred off-site at gatherings involving alcohol. “But the consequences of it are going to affect the workplace, and so that’s the reason we say we have got to address this,” she said.

The letter to employees said the company is seeking to “earn our team’s confidence that, when they speak up, they will be heard”, adding that it realised it had to act “with a renewed urgency”.

Activision has committed to tripling its investment into training resources and said it is hiring 19 full-time roles for its ethics and compliance team.

However, the actions taken may fall short of quelling employee concerns. Those who walked out in August had made four demands to fix the company’s culture including “company-wide” efforts to expand diversity and inclusion, transparency over gender pay equity, an “end to mandatory arbitration clauses in all employee contracts”.

Townsend acknowledged not all of these demands have been met, but she said further changes are coming. “Kotick and the Board basically gave me a blank cheque,” she said.


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