Crisis timeline: Activision Blizzard’s CEO feels the heat over sexual harassment allegations

The latest: CEO Bobby Kotick tells senior managers that “he would consider leaving the company if he can’t quickly fix the culture problems.”

Blizzard Entertainment employees and supporters protest for better working conditions in July. (Photo credit: Getty Images)
Blizzard Entertainment employees and supporters protest for better working conditions in July. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

July 20
The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing files a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard. The complaint alleges the video game giant subjected women employees to a “pervasive frat boy workplace culture” including discrimination, sexual harassment, unequal pay and retaliation. It detailed “cube crawls,” where male employees would drink alcohol and crawl through cubicles, behaving inappropriately toward female employees. The plea alleges a female employee committed suicide on a business trip after she was the subject of sexual harassment. 

July 23
Activision Blizzard chief compliance officer Frances Townsend internally circulates a memo describing the lawsuit as a “distorted and untrue picture of our company including factually incorrect and out-of-context stories.” She writes, “I am proud to be part of a culture that takes a hard-line approach to inappropriate or hostile work environments and sexual harassment issues.” 

July 26
The Wall Street Journal looks at whether the industry’s treatment of women is “toxic.” Activision Blizzard denies the allegations, calling them distorted, false and outdated. 

July 27
Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick emails employees an apology for the company’s “tone deaf” response to the lawsuit. 

July 28
Activision Blizzard employees protest with a walkout at Blizzard Entertainment’s Irvine, California, headquarters.

July 29
More than 1,500 Activision Blizzard employees walk off their jobs in protest, and more than 3,000 sign a letter criticizing the company’s response and Townsend’s memo.

August 3
Blizzard president J. Allen Brack resigns, with Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra stepping into the roles of co-leaders; Jesse Meschuk, head of HR also departs. The California lawsuit names Brack as an executive who failed to act, knowing employees brought sexual harassment and discriminiation complaints. 

August 4
The company reports strong Q2 results. But the California lawsuit and China’s crackdown on video games cost the company 13% in market share.

September 3-24
Law firms initiative class actions suing Activision Blizzard. 

September 14
Activision Blizzard employees and a media labor union file an unfair labor practice case with the National Labor Relations Board. They accuse the company of worker intimidation and union busting.

September 20
The Securities and Exchange Commission launches an investigation into how Activision Blizzard handled employees’ grievances of sexual misconduct and workplace discrimination.

September 27
Activision Blizzard offers to pay $18 million to settle an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission probe stemming from 2018. This case alleged severe and pervasive sexual harassment.

October 20
The BBC reports that more than 20 employees have exited the company, and more than 20 others faced disciplinary action following the sexual harassment and discrimination claims.

October 28
Kotick takes a 99.9% pay cut, reducing his salary to $62,500. His compensation including stock awards was $154.6 million last year, making him the second-highest-paid CEO in the U.S. 

November 2
In Q3, Activision Blizzard GAAP net revenue was $2.1 billion, compared to $1.95 billion last year.

Oneal steps down, three months after her promotion.

November 16
The Wall Street Journal reports that Kotick knew about sexual misconduct at the company for years, including alleged rapes, but downplayed the incidents and failed to inform the board. Several women have accused Kotick himself of mistreatment, including a death threat to an assistant. The article also reported that Kotick drafted the July 23 memo that he had Townsend send to employees, which he later called “tone deaf.” It quoted Oneal divulging in her resignation that she was “marginalized and discriminated against.” Activision Blizzard responded, calling the article misleading and saying it is making changes to be “the industry’s most welcoming and inclusive workplace.”

CNBC reports that Activision Blizzard shares dropped more than 6% following the WSJ report. 

More than 100 employees protest at the Irvine, California, studios, calling for Kotick to resign. The Twitter hashtag #firebobbykotick goes viral.

November 17
Sony’s PlayStation demands Activision Blizzard explain how it will address its sexual misconduct issues. Activision shares tumble an additional 3%.

Activision Blizzard shareholders, holding 4.8 million shares, write to the board of directors asking for Kotick’s resignation.

November 18
Microsoft sends a letter to employees saying the tech giant is evaluating its relationship with Activision Blizzard

Employees' petition for Kotick’s resignation receives more than 1,000 signatures by 4:05 p.m. ET. They call for shareholders to replace the CEO.

November 19
Asked for comment, an Activision spokesperson sends PRWeek the following statement, which it sent to all employees on November 18: 

“We are disappointed in the Wall Street Journal’s report, which presents a misleading view of Activision Blizzard and our CEO. Instances of sexual misconduct that were brought to his attention were acted upon. The WSJ ignores important changes underway to make this the industry’s most welcoming and inclusive workplace and it fails to account for the efforts of thousands of employees who work hard every day to live up to their–and our-values. The constant desire to be better has always set this company apart. Which is why, at Mr. Kotick’s direction, we have made significant improvements, including a zero-tolerance policy for inappropriate conduct. And it is why we are moving forward with unwavering focus, speed, and resources to continue increasing diversity across our company and industry and to ensure that every employee comes to work feeling valued, safe, respected, and inspired. We will not stop until we have the best workplace for our team.”

November 21
Kotick tells senior managers that “he would consider leaving the company if he can’t quickly fix the culture problems,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

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