Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick claimed to be in the dark about widespread allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination that surfaced at the company earlier this year, but according to a new bombshell report by The Wall Street Journal, Kotick wasn’t just aware of the misconduct, he was also involved in ignoring or downplaying the mistreatment of women.
In the wake of a California lawsuit over the summer alleging sexual discrimination, harassment, and a “frat boy” culture across Activision Blizzard, many have questioned Kotick’s culpability given his decades-long tenure as the head of the company. Last month, the CEO apologised to staff after agreeing to an $US18 (A$24.5) million settlement with federal regulators and pledged to take steps to improve how the company treats its employees.
“Over the years, Mr. Kotick himself has been accused by several women of mistreatment both inside and outside the workplace, and in some instances has worked to settle the complaints quickly and quietly,” The Wall Street Journal writes.
In 2006, Kotick reportedly harassed one of his assistants, threatening in a voicemail to have her killed. In 2007, Kotick allegedly told a private jet flight attendant who was suing him for sexual harassment committed by the pilot of his jet, “I’m going to destroy you.” A spokesman for Activision told The Wall Street Journal that Kotick immediately apologised for the 2006 incident. Kotick also denied ever telling the flight attendant he would “destroy” her.
In 2020, 30 female employees in Activision’s esports department reportedly sent an email to the department heads saying they were “subject to unwanted touching, demeaning comments, exclusion from important meetings, and unsolicited comments on their appearance.” According to The Wall Street Journal, Kotick was aware of the email. A spokesperson for Activision said he addressed their concerns by putting diversity and inclusion training in place for the esports team managers.
The Wall Street Journal’s report also includes new allegations against others previously at the company.
Former Blizzard technology chief Ben Kilgore was fired in 2018 after an investigation into multiple allegations of sexual harassment but was thanked “for his many contributions over the last four and a half years” in an email by then-boss Michael Morhaime. Kilgore did not respond to The Wall Street Journal’s request for comment.
Javier Panameno, a former Sledgehammer Games supervisor, was accused of raping one woman and sexually harassing a second. One of the women assaulted reported both incidents to human resources before leaving the company in 2017, according to The Wall Street Journal, but Activision Blizzard did not investigate the allegations and subsequently fire the supervisor until the following year when a lawyer for one of the women emailed the company. Activision settled with the woman out of court, but Kotick reportedly did not inform the company’s Board of Directors about the incident. Activision Blizzard is currently under investigation by the SEC regarding whether it made appropriate disclosures to its investors about misconduct at the company in the past.
Dan Bunting, co-head of Treyarch up until this month, was accused of sexually harassing a female coworker in 2017 after a night of drinking. A 2019 internal investigation reportedly recommended he be fired, but The Wall Street Journal reports that Kotick intervened to prevent that and Bunting was given counseling instead. Bunting did not respond to The Wall Street Journal’s request for comment, but a spokesperson for Activision said, “After considering potential actions in light of that investigation, the company elected not to terminate Mr. Bunting, but instead to impose other disciplinary measures.”
Two years later, Bunting has left the company, but only after The Wall Street Journal asked about the allegation.