Activision Blizzard walkout organizers demand change amid CEO's response to lawsuit

Past and present employees continue to "stand up for change" despite CEO Bobby Kotick admitting the company's initial reaction had been "tone deaf."

Dashia Milden Writer
Dashia is a staff writer for CNET Money who covers all angles of personal finance, including credit cards and banking. From reviews to news coverage, she aims to help readers make more informed decisions about their money. Dashia was previously a staff writer at NextAdvisor, where she covered credit cards, taxes, banking B2B payments. She has also written about safety, home automation, technology and fintech.
Dashia Milden
3 min read

Activision employees are reportedly planning a virtual and in-person walk out today. 

Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

The latest response from Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick to allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination at the video game publisher isn't enough to satisfy employees protesting the company's work environment. Organizers of a walkout planned for Wednesday said in a letter obtained by Axios that the company still needs to end forced arbitration, revise its hiring policies, institute pay transparency and commission a third-party audit of company processes. 

The response comes after Kotick conceded in a late Tuesday email to employees that Activision Blizzard's early reaction to issues brought up by employees was "tone deaf."

"It is imperative that we acknowledge all perspectives and experiences and respect the feelings of those who have been mistreated in any way," Kotick said. "I am sorry that we did not provide the right empathy and understanding."

The back-and-forth comes as Activision Blizzard faces a sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit filed by California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing earlier this month. The agency called the company a "breeding ground for harassment and discrimination" in which women are subject to regular sexual advances by men, who largely go unpunished.

Activision Blizzard, which publishes some of the most popular games in the world, including Call of Duty and World of Warcraft, has previously blasted the lawsuit, saying it includes "distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions." 

Employees welcomed Kotick's commitment to change, but still plan to walk out. More than 2,000 past and present Activision Blizzard employees issued a letter on Tuesday calling for "official statements that recognize the seriousness of these allegations and demonstrate compassion for victims of harassment and assault," Bloomberg reported. The letter from employees, published by the news outlet, focuses on the workers' distrust of the company's leaders. It also expresses support for colleagues who say they're victims of harassment and assault.

Kotick said the company is increasing staffing to investigate claims of mistreatment, and will evaluate the responses of managers and leaders across the company to determine whether they impeded company processes for reviewing claims. Those found to have violated those processes will be fired, Kotick said.

The company also plans to remove any in-game content deemed inappropriate, ensure that a diverse slate of candidates is considered for open positions and create listening sessions during which employees can discuss, with third-party moderators, ways to improve the company's culture. The company has nearly 10,000 employees.

"There is no place anywhere at our company for discrimination, harassment or unequal treatment of any kind," Kotick said, adding that the company has hired an outside law firm to review its policies and procedures to ensure a respectful and inclusive work environment.

The employee letter calls for quick action from the company.

"We expect a prompt response and a commitment to action from leadership on the points enumerated above, and look forward to maintaining a constructive dialogue on how to build a better Activision Blizzard for all employees," the letter says. 

Bloomberg reported Activision Blizzard employees planned a 10 a.m. PT walkout for Wednesday, outside the Blizzard campus in Irvine, California. Employees participating in the walkout will be allowed to take paid time off, the company told The New York Times.

Kotick didn't respond to a request for comment. 

CNET's Steven Musil contributed to this report.