In the face of mounting employee backlash and accusations of a “frat boy” work culture, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick admitted that the gaming company’s response to a California discrimination lawsuit was “tone deaf.”
“Every voice matters — and we will do a better job of listening now, and in the future,” Kotick said in a note to employees on Tuesday. “I am sorry that we did not provide the right empathy and understanding.”
Hundreds of employees staged a walkout on Wednesday to press the company to do more to address a variety of issues, including unequal pay, gender discrimination, and harassment. Kotick’s response came just hours before the walkout.
Last week, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit accusing Activision Blizzard — the company behind popular video games like “Call of Duty,” “World of Warcraft,” and “Candy Crush” — of fostering a “frat boy” work culture in which female employees must “constantly fend off unwanted sexual comments and advances by their male coworkers.”
The complaint also alleges that “the company’s executives and human resources personnel knew of the harassment and failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the unlawful conduct, and instead retaliated against women who complained.”
“The company’s executives and human resources personnel knew about the harassment and failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the unlawful conduct, instead retaliating against women who complained,” according to the complaint.
Following the lawsuit, a company spokesperson called the state’s filing and investigation “inaccurate” and “distorted” in a statement to CNN Business.
Since the lawsuit was filed, several former employees have spoken out on social media about their experiences at Activision Blizzard (ATVI), and more than 2,000 current and former employees signed a petition on Monday calling the company’s initial pushback against the lawsuit’s claims “abhorrent and insulting.”
Frances Townsend, a former George W. Bush administration counterterrorism official and Activision Blizzard’s executive vice president of corporate affairs, reportedly described the lawsuit’s allegations as “factually incorrect, old, and out of context” in an internal statement, according to the petition.
Employees at Activision Blizzard called for a walkout on Wednesday to protest the company’s response to a recent sexual discrimination lawsuit and demand that underrepresented employees be treated more fairly.
According to a document shared with CNN Business, Wednesday’s walkout aims to “improve conditions for employees at the company, particularly women, and in particular women of color and transgender women, nonbinary people, and other marginalized groups.” Its demands for leadership include ending mandatory arbitration clauses in all employee contracts, changing hiring and promotion policies to improve company diversity, and publishing compensation data.
Participants in the walkout are also requesting that Activision Blizzard’s reporting structure, human resources department, and executive staff be audited by a third party. “It is imperative to identify how current systems have failed to prevent employee harassment, and to propose new solutions to address these issues,” the document said.