Content warning: This article contains discussions of sexual harassment and suicide.
Hundreds of Activision Blizzard employees have signed an open letter condemning the company’s response to recent allegations of sexual harassment at the company, which surfaced in a lawsuit from the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
Activision Blizzard is accused of having a ‘frat boy culture’ that has contributed to years of sexual harassment and unequal pay for women at the company. Allegations include instances of sexual harassment, being denied promotions based on gender, and one tragic case in which a female employee at took her own life while she was on a company trip with a male supervisor. The employee had been subjected to intense sexual harassment prior to her death, including having had her nude photos circulated at a company holiday party, the lawsuit claims.
The open letter, as reported by Kotaku, describes Activision Blizzard’s response to the lawsuit as “abhorrent and insulting.”
“Following the announcement from Activision Blizzard, and in light of the internal memo circulated by Frances Townsend, a group of over 800 employees from across all of Activision-Blizzard-King and its subsidiaries came together to take action,” said a member of the group to Kotaku. “Over the weekend we drafted an open letter to our leadership that is now gathering signatures from across our organizations, and have been working on next steps.”
Furthermore, the letter states that Activision Blizzard’s response to the allegations has “damaged our ongoing quest for equality inside and outside of our industry.”
The company’s initial response to the lawsuit was released in a length statement, describing the allegations as “distorted, and in many cases false,” and referred to the the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing as “unaccountable State bureaucrats that are driving many of the State’s best businesses out of California.”
The Activision Blizzard employees are also calling on executive vice president for corporate affairs Frances Townsend to step down as executive sponsor of the ABK Employee Women’s Network, after Townsend released a statement calling the lawsuit “meritless and irresponsible,” and that it “presented a distorted and untrue picture of our company, including factually incorrect, old, and out of context stories — some from more than a decade ago.”
Blizzard co-founder and former president and CEO Mike Morhaime released a somewhat less combative statement, saying that he was “ashamed” for failing women at the company.
The full open letter from Activision employees reads as follows:
“To the Leaders of Activision Blizzard,
“We, the undersigned, agree that the statements from Activision Blizzard, Inc. and their legal counsel regarding the DFEH lawsuit, as well as the subsequent internal statement from Frances Townsend, are abhorrent and insulting to all that we believe our company should stand for. To put it clearly and unequivocally, our values as employees are not accurately reflected in the words and actions of our leadership.
“We believe these statements have damaged our ongoing quest for equality inside and outside of our industry. Categorizing the claims that have been made as “distorted, and in many cases false” creates a company atmosphere that disbelieves victims. It also casts doubt on our organizations’ ability to hold abusers accountable for their actions and foster a safe environment for victims to come forward in the future. These statements make it clear that our leadership is not putting our values first. Immediate corrections are needed from the highest level of our organization.
“Our company executives have claimed that actions will be taken to protect us, but in the face of legal action — and the troubling official responses that followed — we no longer trust that our leaders will place employee safety above their own interests. To claim this is a “truly meritless and irresponsible lawsuit,” while seeing so many current and former employees speak out about their own experiences regarding harassment and abuse, is simply unacceptable.
“We call for official statements that recognize the seriousness of these allegations and demonstrate compassion for victims of harassment and assault. We call on Frances Townsend to stand by her word to step down as Executive Sponsor of the ABK Employee Women’s Network as a result of the damaging nature of her statement. We call on the executive leadership team to work with us on new and meaningful efforts that ensure employees — as well as our community — have a safe place to speak out and come forward.
“We stand with all our friends, teammates, and colleagues, as well as the members of our dedicated community, who have experienced mistreatment or harassment of any kind. We will not be silenced, we will not stand aside, and we will not give up until the company we love is a workplace we can all feel proud to be a part of again. We will be the change.”