The list of government agencies investigating Activision Blizzard has grown to now include the SEC. The Wall Street Journal reported that the Securities and Exchange Commission has subpoenaed the video game publishing giant, including CEO Bobby Kotick, for records pertaining to employment, separation agreements, and communications between senior executives. The Wall Street Journal report says that the SEC is investigating whether Activision Blizzard disclosed information about harassment and discrimination claims to investors in a timely fashion.
Activision Blizzard issued a press release on its investor relations website confirming they are cooperating with regulators and authorities. Activision CEO Bobby Kotick said,
“We are deeply committed to making Activision Blizzard one of the best, most inclusive places to work anywhere. There is absolutely no place anywhere in our Company for discrimination, harassment, or unequal treatment of any kind. While we continue to work in good faith with regulators to address and resolve past workplace issues, we also continue to move ahead with our own initiatives to ensure that we are the very best place to work. We remain committed to addressing all workplace issues in a forthright and prompt manner.”
Two months ago, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued Activision Blizzard for facilitating a culture of abuse, harassment, and discrimination. The suit alleges that employees engaged in activities like a “cube crawl” in which men drank large amounts of alcohol while moving from workstation to workstation “groping” or otherwise harassing female employees. There was also an account of the infamous “Cosby suite” in which Blizzard employees set up a room at Blizzcon in 2013 where men attempted to ply women with alcohol in efforts to sleep with them.
In the aftermath of the initial suit, Blizzard employees staged a walkout and formed an employee activist group agitating for an end to forced arbitration and greater transparency regarding pay and diverse hiring practices. A number of Blizzard executives have either left the company or disappeared from the public eye. J. Allen Brack, CEO of Blizzard, stepped down on August 3rd. That same day, head of global human resources Jesse Meschuk also left the company. Brack was named in the lawsuit as having known of and failing to address the abuse against female employees and Blizzard HR was also cited as complicit party accused of overlooking or under-investigating claims of harassment and other violations.
Frances Townsend — Activision Blizzard’s vice president of corporate affairs and former Homeland Security advisor — called the lawsuit “a distorted and untrue picture of our company.” After fierce social media backlash to her comments, CEO Bobby Kotick issued a press release that called Blizzard’s response to the lawsuit “tone deaf” and promised action that included, among other things, employee listening sessions. According to a source at Blizzard, those listening sessions were little more than “propaganda sessions” and ended after employees complained of their quality.
This newest investigation is the latest in a string of cases brought against Activision Blizzard. Last week, Blizzard employee activist group A Better ABK, with help from the CODE-CWA — a digital workers labor organization — filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board. The complaint alleges Activision Blizzard:
Threatened employees that they cannot talk about or communicate about wages, hours and working conditions; told employees they cannot communicate with or discuss ongoing investigations of wages, hours and working conditions; maintained an overly broad social media policy; enforced the social media policy against employees who have engaged in protected concerted activity; threatened or disciplined employees on account of protected concerted activity; engaged in surveillance of employees engaged in protected concerted activity and engaged in interrogation of employees about protected concerted activity.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Activision Blizzard is cooperating with the investigation.
Update September 21st, 10:16 AM ET: Article updated with new details from Activision Blizzard’s press release.