In July, a firestorm kicked off within the video game industry. Activision Blizzard became the center of the news cycle following a lawsuit filed in California courts accusing the company of creating a "frat boy" culture where women are victims of harassment, unfair pay, and retaliation. The lawsuit went into great detail about alleged past events and called for numerous forms of relief, including compensation and punitive damages.
Since the lawsuit went public, the company has responded with a statement from CEO Bobby Kotick about plans to begin rectifying company culture and a huge walkout from employees. We expect the situation to continue into the foreseeable future, but what's happened so far? Here's everything you need to know about the Activision Blizzard lawsuit and what's happened since.
Latest news on the Activision Blizzard lawsuit
As expected from a lawsuit this large, a lot has happened since it was filed, both inside and outside the company. Here's what has gone down.
Activision Blizzard shareholders accept Microsoft's offer — April 28, 2022
At a Special Meeting on April 28, 2022, Activision Blizzard shareholders voted to accept the terms of Microsoft's acquisition proposal. Over 98% of shareholders voted "Yes," garnering overwhelming support for the merger agreement. The deal was previously agreed upon by Activision Blizzard's Board of Directors but also had to be agreed to by shareholders.
Microsoft intends to buy out Activision Blizzard at $95 a share, currently a premium as the company's shares fell dramatically in the wake of the lawsuit. The deal is currently slated to be closed in Microsoft's fiscal year ending June 30, 2023.
Raven's union efforts continue — April 22, 2022
Raven Software QA workers garnered a huge win in the push for unionization, obtaining clearance from the NLRB to hold a vote across the unit. The vote, which will be tallied on May 23, 2022, will determine whether or not the Game Workers Alliance will be officially recognized as the first gaming union at a North American publisher.
Previously, Activision Blizzard had sought to require all of Raven Software to hold a unionization vote, increasing the difficulty in the unit being recognized. The publisher told Windows Central that it is currently "reviewing legal options" for what to do next.
Alleged interference from Meta COO — April 21, 2022
According to a report from The Wall Street Journal, Meta COO Sheryl Sandberg, a former girlfriend of Kotick, pressured tabloid U.K. tabloid The Sun to drop a story on Kotick.
The story would've reportedly detailed a restraining order obtained against Kotick, while the strategy for figuring out how to keep the story from being published was reportedly put together by a team that included Facebook and Activision employees.
Whistleblower claims Gov. Newsom interfered with lawsuit — April 13, 2022
A whistleblowing lawyer who had been with the DFEH since 2018 claims that the office of California Governor Newsom has interfered in the case against Activision Blizzard. As reported by Bloomberg, the lawyer, Melanie Proctor, claims that her former boss, Chief Counsel Janette Wipper, was fired by the governor with no explanation. Proctor also claimed that "As we continued to win in state court, this interference increased, mimicking the interests of Activision's counsel."
Activision Blizzard makes 1,100 QA workers full-time employees — April 7, 2022
Activision Blizzard hired 1,100 QA workers as full-time employees, including a pay bump to $20 an hour, with the company stating that "We have ambitious plans for the future and our Quality Assurance (QA) team members are a critical part of our development efforts."
This wave of hiring across the Activision Publishing and Blizzard Entertainment branches of the company notably does not include Raven Software QA employees who are still seeking to unionize. Activision Blizzard claims that it is following National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) guidelines in doing so.
Company sued by family of employee who committed suicide — March 4, 2022
The Washington Post reported that the family of Kerri Moynihan, a former finance manager at Activision Blizzard who was found dead during a company retreat, has sued Activision Blizzard. The suicide was first reported in the original DFEH lawsuit, although Moynihan wasn't referenced by name.
The wrongful death suit claims Moynihan's boss, Greg Restituito, initially lied to investigators and hid evidence about a sexual relationship with his employee. It also alleges the company refused to turn over Moynihan's company-issued laptop to investigators.
An Activision Blizzard spokesperson told Windows Central that "we at Activision Blizzard were, and continue to be, deeply saddened by the tragic death of Ms. Moynihan, who was a valued member of the company. We will address the complaint through the legal process as appropriate, and out of respect for the family we have no further comment at this time."
Microsoft to acquire Activision Blizzard for nearly $70B — Jan. 18, 2022
First reported in The Wall Street Journal and later confirmed by the company, Microsoft announced a deal to acquire Activision Blizzard. While CEO Bobby Kotick didn't confirm whether the lawsuits impacted the company's decision to sell (he said in a VentureBeat interview that he doesn't think it affected the stock price and that the decision was based on resources), it's hard to see how the lawsuits didn't affect the value of the company, along with some lackluster games of late.
Kotick will be remaining as CEO until the deal is finalized. Xbox head Phil Spencer has been named Microsoft Gaming CEO, and Activision Blizzard will report to him. The WSJ reports that Kotick will step down once the company is fully acquired.
Around 40 employees fired, pushed out since lawsuit — Jan. 17, 2022
According to The Wall Street Journal, Activision Blizzard has "fired or pushed out more than three dozen employees and disciplined about 40 others" in response to allegations brought on by the lawsuit. An investigation collected about 700 reports from employees about misconduct and similar issues, although a spokesperson for the company denied the number.
Employee announces she's suing company in press conference — Dec. 8, 2021
In a press conference held outside the company in Irvine, California, an Activision Blizzard employee named Christine said she was suing the company. Christine, along with Lisa Bloom, a high-profile victims' advocate lawyer, said she was harassed repeatedly at the company and was told not to go to HR. She also said she was demoted for speaking out.
"When I complained to my supervisors, I was told, 'They were just joking' and that I should get over it," she said. "I've been denied my full profit-sharing, denied shares in the company, and have had minimal raises in the four years I've been employed with Blizzard."
They are asking for an apology from the company, a third-party review of the claims, and a victims' compensation fund in excess of $100 million.
Raven Software QA workers walk out — Dec. 6, 2021
Responding to news that Activision Blizzard laid off around a dozen QA contractors at Raven Software, more members of the team announced they would be walking out. They demanded that members of the QA team be offered full-time positions, including the ones that were laid off. Some reports claimed some of the employees moved cities just a couple weeks before the layoffs. Other employees walked out in solidarity.
Since then, the ABK Workers Alliance announced a work stoppage and set up a strike fund to support the laid-off devs and others who are participating.
Nintendo head also speaks out — Nov. 22, 2021
Nintendo of America president Doug Bowser called the recent Activision Blizzard reports "disturbing" in an internal email. He joins Jim Ryan at PlayStation and Phil Spencer at Xbox in calling out the company to employees.
Xbox, PlayStation heads speak out — Nov. 18, 2021
Jim Ryan, Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO, and Phil Spencer, head of Xbox, both responded to the Kotick allegations in internal emails obtained by journalists. Spencer said he was "disturbed and deeply troubled by the horrific events and action," and that he was "evaluating all aspects of our relationship with Activision Blizzard."
Similarly, Ryan said he was "disheartened and frankly stunned" by the reports.
Report suggests Bobby Kotick knew of harassment claims — Nov. 16, 2021
According to The Wall Street Journal, CEO Bobby Kotick not only knew about the sexual harassment claims, he worked to keep some of them quiet and didn't report multiple incidents to the board of directors. In one example, Kotick intervened to limit disciplinary measures against Dan Bunting, co-studio head of Treyarch (he has since left the company). He also reportedly covered up a rape allegation by a Sledgehammer Games employee. Kotick also allegedly threatened an employee himself.
In a response, Kotick didn't address the allegations against him directly, but said that "anyone who doubts my conviction to be the most welcoming, inclusive workplace doesn't really appreciate how important this is to me." The board of directors also released a statement saying it would be standing by Kotick and that it remains "confident" that he's addressing workplace change.
Employees were not satisfied with the response and staged an impromptu walkout. "We have instituted our own Zero Tolerance Policy. We will not be silenced until Bobby Kotick has been replaced as CEO, and continue to hold our original demand for Third-Party review by an employee-chosen source," the ABK Workers Alliance wrote on Twitter.
Later, over 1,000 employees signed a petition calling for Kotick's removal.
Besides workers, many publications, including Polygon and Windows Central, called for Kotick's resignation.
Blizzard co-lead Jen Oneal resigns — Nov. 2, 2021
Following J. Allen Brack's departure, Jen Oneal, previously the head of Vicarious Visions, and Mike Ybarra were appointed Blizzard co-heads. However, on the day of the company's Q3 2021 financial results, Oneal announced she was leaving at the end of 2021 to try and have a "broader industry impact" on diversity in the gaming industry.
Later, it was revealed in a WSJ report that she was being paid less than her male counterparts even after being promoted and that she was sexually harassed during her time at the company.
CEO Bobby Kotick announces he'll take pay cut — Oct. 28, 2021
Along with announcing company-wide changes, including the waiving of forced arbitration, a zero-tolerance harassment policy, and more, CEO Bobby Kotick announced he would be taking a pay cut. It was dropped to $62,500, the lowest amount allowed for a salaried employee under California law. He said it would remain in place until the board of directors sees that the changes have been implemented.
Company fires 20 employees in response — Oct. 19, 2021
According to the Financial Times, Activision Blizzard fired 20 employees after an internal investigation, citing harassment allegations. In a statement, chief compliance officer Fran Townsend said an additional 20 faced disciplinary action.
The DFEH and the EEOC are now at odds — Oct. 8, 2021
After the DFEH filed an objection to the proposed settlement, the EEOC responded with a memorandum on Oct. 8 that, in part, accused the DFEH of a conflict of interest. The potential ethics violation regards two DFEH lawyers who used to work with the EEOC on the case. The memorandum stated:
The EEOC gets involved, but Activision Blizzard agrees to pay $18M settlement — Sept. 27, 2021
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced that it filed a complaint against Activision Blizzard, mostly alleging that the company engaged in the practices outlined in the DFEH complaint (that employees engaged in sexual harassment, retaliation, etc.).
However, not too long after the announcement, Activision Blizzard revealed that it had agreed to settle with the EEOC and create an $18 million fund for the purpose of making amends to those affected. The company also said it would be developing training programs and software to improve workplace practices.
"We will continue to be vigilant in our commitment to the elimination of harassment and discrimination in the workplace," Kotick said in a press release.
However, reaction to the news was mixed. The Communication Workers of America (CWA), which previously had filed a complaint against ABK for allegedly using coercive tactics and intimidation, tweeted that the $18 million figure was a "slap in the face to workers" and that it was "mere pennies" compared to the company's full net worth. The DFEH also argued that the settlement could impact its case against the company by allowing it to potentially destroy evidence. An Activision Blizzard spokesperson, meanwhile, said the amount was agreed on with the EEOC.
Activision Blizzard subpoenaed by SEC — Sept. 20, 2021
On Sept. 20, The Wall Street Journal reported that the company, along with several leaders like Bobby Kotick, had been subpoenaed by the SEC. They've been asked to hand over documents, such as minutes from board meetings, personnel files, separation agreements, and more.
The SEC is an organization that typically protects investors against market manipulation and other financial falsehoods from companies, so the news of the subpoena was quite surprising. However, the purpose of it was to "discern whether Activision and its executives properly disclosed allegations ... and whether any of that information should have been shared earlier with investors," according to the WSJ.
A spokesperson for the company said in a statement issued to WSJ that, "the company is cooperating with the SEC."
Lawsuit updated with reports Activision Blizzard is interfering with investigation — Aug. 24, 2021
The DFEH expanded its lawsuit against the company, in a report from Axios. The documents allege that Activision Blizzard has been interfering with the investigation, including the shredding of documents related to the suit.
Essentially, the state requires employees to maintain records related to a complaint if it's filed, but the amendment says Activision Blizzard did not produce documents, saying that they didn't exist or that they were confidential. The DFEH also says that human resources personnel documents related to the investigation "were shredded ... thirty (30) days after an employee's separation."
The amendment also says Activision Blizzard's hiring of WilmerHale has interfered with the investigation. In other news, the DFEH also changed some wording, including calling "employees" "workers," which would include temporary workers as well as employees.
Leadership steps down — Aug. 3, 2021
Blizzard president J. Allen Brack stepped down from the company in August. Jen Oneal, previously the head of Vicarious Visions and executive vice president of development at Blizzard, and Mike Ybarra, who's most known for working at Xbox before joining Activision Blizzard in 2019, will co-lead the studio moving forward. Brack was one of the names brought up in the lawsuit.
The same day, Bloomberg reported that Jesse Meschuk, the company's top HR executive, has also left the company.
Esports leagues are funded in part by corporate sponsorships, and that includes entities like the Overwatch League and the Call of Duty League. This week, Coca-Cola, Kellogg, State Farm, and T-Mobile were all reassessing their partnerships with Activision Blizzard's Overwatch League, according to The Washington Post. Later this week, Kellogg confirmed it would no longer advertise Cheez-It or Pringles in the Overwatch League. T-Mobile also noted it would be pausing its sponsorship.
More reports emerge
Following the walkout, numerous outlets published reports expanding on the initial allegations in the lawsuit and stating new ones.
On July 28, Kotaku published an in-depth look into the Cosby Suite named in the lawsuit. The room was reportedly a place filled with booze where people could go for parties. In addition, it featured a large portrait of Bill Cosby, who was accused of sexual assault by numerous women and was convicted in 2018 for aggravated indecent assault (although that conviction was overturned this year).
On July 29, The New York Times published its investigation into the lawsuit and subsequent walkout. One former employee interviewed for the article said that she was paid less than a former boyfriend, who joined the company at the same time and performed similar tasks. She also said that she denied drugs from her manager, which she alleges hurt her career.
Many reports emerged on July 30. One from IGN affirmed a lot of what had been alleged of the drinking culture at the company, but also went deeper into how women, specifically pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers, were treated. One source noted how men would often walk into the breastfeeding room and stare at the women using it. Another person told IGN that they had trouble getting time off to go to the doctor as a pregnant woman. While a lot had been done to cut down on the company's drinking culture, many sources noted that it hadn't been enough, saying what was done was akin to "putting lipstick" on the problem.
Vice resurfaced a story from 2018 where a former Activision Blizzard IT worker was arrested after putting cameras in the company's Minnesota office bathroom with the intent to spy on workers. It also published a story concerning a woman who had an indecent encounter with Blizzard employees at the Black Hat cybersecurity conference in 2015. She said, "One of them asked me when was the last time I was personally penetrated, if I liked being penetrated, and how often I got penetrated."
On Aug. 6, Waypoint continued its reporting with an article concerning Blizzard's chief information officer, Derek Ingalls, and how he joked about sleeping with female assistants during a meeting. Bloomberg also published an in-depth piece on what the culture was like in the years leading up to the lawsuit, and how a predominantly male workforce affected egos and workplace behavior. Many of its developers were treated like rock stars.
Activision Blizzard employees participate in a walkout — July 28, 2021
In response to the lawsuit, employees within the company organized a walkout on July 28, 2021. Hundreds of employees walked out on the job, many standing in protest in front of Blizzard Entertainment headquarters. The point was to bring attention to four demands:
- An end to mandatory arbitration clauses in all employee contracts, current and future. Arbitration clauses protect abusers and limit the ability of victims to seek restitution.
- The adoption of recruiting, interviewing, hiring, and promotion policies designed to improve representation among employees at all levels, agreed upon by employees in a company-wide Diversity, Equity & Inclusion organization. Current practices have led to women, in particular women of color and transgender women, nonbinary people, and other marginalized groups that are vulnerable to gender discrimination not being hired fairly for new roles when compared to men.
- Publication of data on relative compensation (including equity grants and profit sharing), promotion rates, and salary ranges for employees of all genders and ethnicities at the company. Current practices have led to aforementioned groups not being paid or promoted fairly.
- Empower a company-wide Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion task force to hire a third party to audit ABK's reporting structure, HR department, and executive staff. It is imperative to identify how current systems have failed to prevent employee harassment, and to propose new solutions to address these issues.
At the time of this writing, leadership hasn't responded yet to the demands.
The industry responds — July 28, 2021
On the day of the walkout, around 500 current and former Ubisoft employees signed an open letter standing in solidarity with the walkout participants and calling for collaboration between Ubisoft, Activision Blizzard, and other companies.
"We believe you, we stand with you and support you," the letter said.
Ubisoft had been embroiled in controversy of its own back in 2020. Multiple high-level executives were either fired or left the company following allegations of a toxic workplace environment and harassment. The open letter states that not enough has been done internally to deal with a lot of the issues.
"We have stood by and watched as you fired only the most public offenders. You let the rest either resign or worse, promoted them, moved them from studio to studio, team to team, giving them second chance after second chance with no repercussions. This cycle needs to stop," the letter continued.
Meanwhile, Jeff Strain, a former senior Blizzard employee who worked on StarCraft and Diablo and co-founder of ArenaNet and Undead Labs, wrote a letter to his employees giving them his endorsement to unionize. The letter, which was published in full by IGN, notes the number of awful stories he's heard while being in the industry and that the lawsuit left him "disgusted and repulsed — but not at all surprised."
"I welcome my employees to unionize, and I'm giving my full endorsement and support to an industry wide adoption of unions," he wrote. "I also encourage the leadership of game-industry companies, large and small, corporate and independent, to join me in endorsing and advocating for unionization as a concrete, actionable step toward improving our industry."
Warcraft team removes inappropriate references from the game — July 27, 2021
On July 27, the World of Warcraft team released a statement, noting that they had taken note of player feedback and would be removing inappropriate references from both Shadowlands and WoW Classic. Wowhead reported that this includes references to former creative director Alex Afrasiabi. Most notably, Field Marshal Afrasiabi was replaced by Field Marshal Stonebridge, among other changes.
Development reportedly halts on World of Warcraft
Jeff Hamilton, a senior developer on World of Warcraft, wrote in a series of tweets following the lawsuit report that "almost no work is being done on World of Warcraft right now while this obscenity plays out.
"Activision's response to this is currently taking a group of world-class developers and making them so mad and traumatized they're rendered unable to keep making a great game," he wrote.
What is the Activision Blizzard lawsuit?
The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) brought forward the civil lawsuit against the game publisher on July 20, 2021. The crux of the suit, which came after a two-year investigation, alleges that the company had created a "frat boy" culture where female employees were subjected to pay disparities, sexual harassment, and retaliation when they came forward.
The suit claims that the DFEH attempted to contact Activision Blizzard about the allegations prior to filing. However, the "parties were unable to resolve the administrative complaints." The DFEH also said in the court documents that efforts to mediate were made, but they were unsuccessful.
Overall, the DFEH said those affected suffered lost compensation and emotional pain. The DFEH is seeking relief for all the affected female employees, including punitive damages and unpaid wages.
What claims are present in the lawsuit?
The suit begins with the claim that the company is only staffed by around 20% women and that "few women ever reach top roles at the company." Even when they do, they earn a smaller salary than their male counterparts and are offered fewer stock and incentive pay opportunities.
"Women were steered into the lower levels of Defendants' hierarchy and often had to work harder and longer to earn equal promotional and other opportunities as their male counterparts," the suit said.
Either way, female employees report generally getting paid less than male employees who perform the same kinds of work. Similarly, the court documents state that male employees would get away with coming into work hungover and playing video games while delegating their work to female employees. They would also get opportunities that their female employees were not privy to.
In one example, a female employee reported that one of her male counterparts was invited to weekly meetings with a VP when she was not afforded the same privilege, even after receiving great performance reviews and generating more money in her marketing campaigns.
Sexual harassment was also rampant across the company. The suit lists several examples, including the pervasiveness of "cube crawls," where male employees would drift from cubicle to cubicle harassing other employees. World of Warcraft female employees reported that male employees would make rape jokes and other inappropriate comments.
One person named in the lawsuit was Alex Afrasiabi, who was formerly the senior creative director on World of Warcraft. Employees alleged that he engaged in inappropriate behavior at BlizzCon, and it was apparently so well known that his suite was nicknamed the "Cosby Suite."
The company's culture particularly targeted women of color. For example, one Black employee stated that she was micromanaged by her supervisor, who made her write a summary of what she would do on her time off, which was not department policy.
The suit also claims that pregnancy discrimination occurred at the company. For example, one woman said that she was denied a promotion because "they could not risk promoting her as she might get pregnant and like being a mom too much." Breastfeeding rooms were also used for meetings instead of their intended use, and employees using the room were kicked out.
In one particularly heartbreaking example, a female employee died by suicide on a business trip after sexual harassment.
What have the responses been from leadership?
Activision Blizzard's initial response to the lawsuit wasn't kind to the DFEH, calling a lot of the claims "distorted, and in many cases, false."
"We value diversity and strive to foster a workplace that offers inclusivity for everyone. There is no place in our company or industry, or any industry, for sexual misconduct or harassment of any kind," a spokesperson for Activision Blizzard told Bloomberg Law in a statement. "We take every allegation seriously and investigate all claims. In cases related to misconduct, action was taken to address the issue."
Other responses from company leadership have been mixed. Former Blizzard President J. Allen Brack, who is named in the lawsuit, called the allegations "extremely troubling" in an internal email.
"I feel angry, sad, and a host of other emotions, but I also feel grateful to work alongside a set of leaders and thousands of employees who join me in their commitment to continuous improvement," he continued, saying that leadership would be meeting with employees to discuss how to move forward.
On the other hand, Executive Vice President of Corporate Affairs Frances Townsend echoed the original company statement in her internal email. She said the lawsuit "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."
Meanwhile, CEO Bobby Kotick published a statement saying that the original Activision Blizzard response 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. I am sorry that we did not provide the right empathy and understanding," Kotick wrote.
What's next for Activision Blizzard and the lawsuit?
We can't say for sure what will happen with the company going forward, but we can make some predictions based on similar past events and statements from leadership.
It's unlikely that the case will go to trial. A lot of DFEH cases end in a settlement, so this case will probably end in one as well. More importantly, we can expect Activision Blizzard to introduce big changes to the company to counter the allegations. So far, the company hasn't responded to the walkout organizers' demands, nor has it released a concrete plan to address the allegations.
Based on company leadership's statements and internal emails, we expected an overview of hiring practices, or at least a statement breaking down how the company will do so, and that has happened. At the start, Kotick noted that he wanted to work with hiring managers to ensure "they have diverse candidate slates for all open positions" and to evaluate managers and other leaders and to terminate those who "impeded the integrity of our processes." Activision Blizzard also hired a third-party law firm, WilmerHale, to review company policies. (It's worth noting, as pointed out by Kotaku, that this is the same firm that Amazon is using to prevent workers from unionizing.) Multiple execs have mentioned wanting to hold discussions with current employees to get feedback. According to an Uppercut Crit article, a source mentioned that "any future all hands style meetings have been tabled in favor of smaller group 'discussion sessions.'"
Inappropriate content will also be removed from games. So far, Afrasiabi references have been removed from World of Warcraft and Jesse McCree's name was changed in Overwatch, but we're sure to see other changes moving forward. Like with Ubisoft, we'll likely see an exodus of people in higher positions.
Don't expect the company to unionize. Organizers told Windows Central that unionization isn't on the table at this time. They hope to mostly work with company leadership to fix the systemic problems named in the lawsuit and continue evolving their demands based on the responses. They also noted that they expect to work with leadership no matter how long it takes to make sure demands are met.
The biggest question right now, however, is whether the company culture will change for the better if the Microsoft acquisition gets finalized. Kotick is reportedly out once it goes through, and since a lot of employees and workers have been calling for his resignation, that might be a huge change. The Microsoft acquisition could represent a big change, so we'll be following to see how it all shakes out.
Updated Aug. 6, 2021: Added section about companies pulling sponsorships, along with articles published on Aug. 6.
Updated Aug. 24, 2021: Added information about amended lawsuit.
Updated Oct. 15, 2021: Added more information about the EEOC and SEC getting involved, along with the recent DFEH and EEOC struggles.
Updated Dec. 8, 2021: Updated with information on Bobby Kotick allegations and responses.
Updated Jan. 19, 2022: Updated with latest news, including Microsoft's proposed acquisition.
Updated March 4, 2022: Posted information about a wrongful death suit.