Editor’s Note: A lawsuit has been filed against Activision Blizzard by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which alleges the company has engaged in abuse, discrimination, and retaliation against its female employees. Activision Blizzard has denied the allegations. The full details of the Activision Blizzard lawsuit (content warning: rape, suicide, abuse, harassment) are being updated as new information becomes available.
Workers from multiple Activision Blizzard offices have joined together in a coalition and are formally protesting CEO Bobby Kotick’s appointed policies and procedures auditing firm. The group, The ABK Workers Alliance, sent a joint letter to Activision Blizzard executives to oppose the company’s hiring of WilmerHale, a law firm known for past anti-union action, to oversee an audit of Activision Blizzard’s workplace policies, practices, and procedures.
The games publisher has been under fire since a lawsuit filed against Activision Blizzard was made public in July. A California state agency alleges a history of abuse and discrimination against Activision Blizzard’s female employees, which Activision Blizzard initially called “distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past” in a statement to Screen Rant. The internal and public backlash against the company’s initial response was later followed by a statement from Kotick, acknowledging that the Activision Blizzard response had been “tone deaf.” Rather than only investigate the allegations internally, WilmerHale was hired as a third-party auditor of Activision Blizzard.
Responding to Activision Blizzard’s choice of WilmerHale, The ABK Workers Alliance sent a joint letter to Kotick and the rest of the publisher’s executive leadership, rejecting the firm for its previous history of “discouraging workers’ rights and collective action.” The ABK Workers Alliance alleges the firm’s appointment constitutes a conflict of interest. The letter, released to IGN, also criticizes Activision Blizzard for failing to acknowledge or meet employees’ demands, which the group says contradicts Kotick’s promise to listen to employees’ concerns. The full text of the letter can be read below:
Monday, August 2, 2021
To CEO Bobby Kotick and the Activision Blizzard executive leadership team,
We are The ABK Workers Alliance, an organized group of current Activision Blizzard, Inc. employees committed to defending our right to a safe and equitable workplace. That right remains endangered as the stories of abuse and mistreatment continue to grow in scope, and new accounts of harassment perpetrated by current Activision Blizzard employees have continued to emerge since the publication of the DFEH’s lawsuit.
Last week, we took collective action to demand better working conditions for women and other marginalized groups at Activision Blizzard King (ABK) by writing an open letter signed by more than 3,000 current employees. We organized the #ActiBlizzWalkout at Blizzard Entertainment’s Irvine headquarters where more than 500 workers walked out and hundreds more participated virtually around the world.
Our request for action crosses studio lines, including workers from Activision, Beenox, Blizzard Entertainment, High Moon Studios, Infinity Ward, King, Sledgehammer Games, Raven Software, and Vicarious Visions. Our goal is for the executive leadership team to address their response to the California DFEH lawsuit, acknowledge the reality of working conditions across our organization, and commit to meaningful change at Activision Blizzard.
We communicated a list of four demands aimed at protecting our most vulnerable workers. These are: (1) an end to forced arbitration in employment agreements, (2) the adoption of inclusive recruitment and hiring practices, (3) increases in pay transparency through compensation metrics, and (4) an audit of ABK policies and practices to be performed by a neutral third-party. Importantly, we demanded that this third party be selected by an employee-led Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion task force.
In response to our demands, you wrote a letter to employees expressing a commitment to doing a better job of listening. You said you would do everything possible to work with employees in improving our workplace. And yet, the solutions you proposed in that letter did not meaningfully address our requests. You ignored our call for an end to mandatory arbitration. You did not commit to adopting inclusive recruitment and hiring practices. You made no comment on pay transparency.
One of our demands, a third-party audit of ABK practices and policies, was ostensibly addressed by your decision to hire WilmerHale to conduct an internal review. While we commend the idea of hiring a third-party firm to perform an internal review, The ABK Workers Alliance cannot support the choice of WilmerHale as an impartial reviewer.
We reject the selection of WilmerHale for the following reasons:
● WilmerHale’s pre-existing relationships with Activision Blizzard and its executives create an unacceptable conflict of interest.
○ Activision Blizzard has already been a client of WilmerHale, who you used to dispute the Diverse Candidate Search Policy proposed by the AFL-CIO Reserve Fund and UAW Retiree Medical Benefits Trust  earlier in 2021.
○ Frances Townsend is known to have relationships with multiple partners at WilmerHale, including former FBI Director Robert Mueller .
● WilmerHale has a history of discouraging workers’ rights and collective action. ○ WilmerHale states on their public website that their services include “advising on union awareness and avoidance” .
○ WilmerHale used anti-collective action tactics in their work with Amazon & Uber . In media portrayals, WilmerHale is regularly referred to as a “Union Busting Firm” [5, 6, 7]. We are already seeing the effects of this ideology in actions that leadership has taken to restrict our freedom of association since last week, including reducing the size of listening sessions and limiting access to those sessions.
● The WilmerHale partner leading this investigation, Stephanie Avakian, specializes in protecting the wealthy and powerful.
○ WilmerHale outlined Avakian’s work as: “…counseling and defending financial institutions, public and private companies, hedge…