Activision Blizzard has ousted 20 employees and disciplined 20 more as part of an internal investigation into allegations of sex harassment and discrimination, the company said.
The developer behind games like “World of Warcraft” and “Call of Duty” is also adding 19 employees to its ethics and compliance team, according to a letter executive vice president Frances Townsend sent to employees Wednesday.
The news comes months after the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing in July brought an explosive ongoing lawsuit against Activision Blizzard, accusing the company of fostering a “frat bro” culture full of rape jokes, crude comments and groping that drove a female employee to suicide.
The company initially came out swinging, with Townsend accusing prosecutors of giving “a distorted and untrue picture of our company, including factually incorrect, old and out of context stories.”
That move angered many employees, who slammed Activision Blizzard’s “abhorrent” response to the suit and planned to walk out from work in protest. CEO Bobby Kotick then admitted the company had been “tone deaf” and vowed to clean up the developer’s culture.
Now, the company is pointing to the 20 employee “exits” — as well as the departure of two executives in August — as evidence that it’s cleaning up its act.
“We are working tirelessly to ensure that, moving forward, this is a place where people are not only heard, but empowered,” Townsend, a former Bush administration homeland security official, assured employees on Tuesday. “There is no place for harassment, discrimination, or retaliation in this company.”
Townsend told the Financial Times that the fired employees included several game developers and some supervisors. None of the firings were from senior management or the company’s board, she told the paper.
Most of the misconduct involved alcohol and took place at off-site events, Townsend added.
On the same day Townsend told employees about the departing employees, Activision Blizzard also fired a legal salvo against the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
In a court filing requesting extra time to investigate, the video game developer said that the Department of Fair Employment and Housing is being represented by two attorneys who previously worked for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency that reached a separate $18 million settlement with the company in September.
Activision Blizzard claimed that these lawyers working for both agencies violates the California Bar’s conflict of interest rules — and argued they should be barred from working on the Department of Fair Employment and Housing’s suit. The company also raised the idea of dismissing the suit altogether.
“Violation of these rules could lead to the disqualification not only of the two attorneys at issue, but of the entire group of [Department of Fair Employment and Housing] attorneys with whom they have worked,” attorneys for Activision Blizzard wrote. “It also calls into question the integrity of the underlying investigation itself.”
A judge is set to consider Activision Blizzard’s claims in a hearing on Wednesday.