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Activision Blizzard Board Finds 'No Evidence' It Ignored or Downplayed Harassment

After conducting its own internal investigation, Activision Blizzard's Board of Directors claims it has found 'no evidence' to suggest that its senior executives and its own members ignored or downplayed gender harassment. It's also urging its shareholders to vote against an upcoming proposal to craft a report about its own efforts to prevent abuse and harassment.

In a new SEC filing, Activision Blizzard asserted:

"[T]he Board and its external advisors have determined that there is no evidence to suggest that Activision Blizzard senior executives ever intentionally ignored or attempted to downplay the instances of gender harassment that occurred and were reported. That work also has not unearthed any evidence, directly or indirectly, suggesting any attempt by any senior executive or employee to conceal information from the Board. Outside advisors, after exhaustive review, also determined the Board never intentionally ignored or attempted to downplay the instances of gender harassment that occurred and were reported."

The initial complaint from the state of California, filed after a two-year-long investigation, accuses the company leadership of knowing about and failing to prevent numerous internal cultural issues. Subsequent reports and lawsuits have similarly included accusations that incidents were reported and either ignored or brushed aside with little meaningful consequences for the perpetrators. After the initial slate of allegations, over 20 employees had been fired as a result by the following October, and over 20 more had been otherwise disciplined.

Notably, Activision Blizzard's committee response focuses specifically on harassment that "occurred and was reported" as defined by the company.

Sweeping allegations against Activision Blizzard

The internal investigation in question was first announced back in November, following a California lawsuit and a sweeping wave of allegations of abuse, harassment, and gender-related disparities at the company. Among them was the accusation that CEO Bobby Kotick knew of many of the issues at the company, but failed to take action. The Activision Blizzard board of directors backed Kotick in a statement at the time, saying it remained "confident that Bobby Kotick appropriately addressed workplace issues brought to his attention."

As allegations mounted, the board established a Workplace Responsibility Committee to conduct its own internal investigation of the allegations. The committee was run by Activision independent director Dawn Ostroff, and fellow independent director Reveta Bowers also joined the committee. In April, five months after the investigation was announced, Lulu Cheng Meservey was added to the board and joined the committee.

The committee's investigative work is said to have included reviewing "individual instances of harassment" as well as company policies and procedures, reviewing source documents such as employee emails and interviews, and conducting its own interviews of current and former employees.

The committee claims to have worked with "the assistance of external advisors" including law firms and "experts in workplace issues" to come to these conclusions, but has only named one specific external advisor in its report: Gilbert Casellas. Casellas is a former chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and his role in the investigation is said by Activision Blizzard to have involved reviewing data from investigated reports of gender harassment from across the US between 2016 and 2021.

From these, Casellas concluded that "there was no widespread harassment, pattern or practice of harassment, or systemic harassment at Activision Blizzard or at any of its business units during that timeframe. Mr. Casellas further concluded that, based on the volume of reports, the amount of misconduct reflected is comparatively low for a company the size of Activision Blizzard."

[T]he Board and its external advisors have determined that there is no evidence to suggest that Activision Blizzard senior executives ever intentionally ignored or attempted to downplay the instances of gender harassment that occurred and were reported.

No further detail was offered as to what specific elements of Activision Blizzard's workplace culture Casellas was offered to look over as comparison points to reach this conclusion. IGN has reached out to Activision Blizzard to clarify who else was involved on this committee as well as what the nature of Casellas' contribution was, and will update this article if a response is received.

Activision Blizzard's conclusions about itself come ahead of an upcoming meeting of shareholders during which a number of measures will be voted on, including a shareholder proposal to prepare a report about its efforts to prevent abuse, harassment, and discrimination. Activision Blizzard is actively urging its shareholders to vote against the compilation of such a report.

It's also discouraging shareholders from voting against a proposal for a director candidate to be added to the board that would be selected by Activision Blizzard's non-management employees. The latter proposal was suggested, among other reasons, as "particularly beneficial in light of recent allegations regarding sexual misconduct at the Company. Activision CEO Bobby Kotick reportedly had known for years about alleged sexual assault at the Company but did not inform the Board."

Finally, the company is advocating shareholders vote for approval of its executive compensation package, which includes reverting Kotick back to his $875,000 annual salary after he reduced it last October to $62,500 amidst calls for his resignation due to the allegations against him and the company. Kotick's actual pay is typically significantly higher due to stock and numerous other bonuses and awards, though he opted out of several of these last year due to the work culture allegations as well as repeated criticism of his compensation package. Kotick remains eligible for several million in bonuses as early as July 18 if the board determines he has sufficiently made progress in improving the company's culture.

Rebekah Valentine is a news reporter for IGN. You can find her on Twitter @duckvalentine.

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