The Wall Street Journal Report on Jen Oneal's Departure from Activision Blizzard and Bobby Kotick Ignoring Harassment Allegations
2021/11/16 at 12:41 PM
Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick is under fire again, but rather than the now somewhat common complaints
regarding his compensation
scathing article by the Wall Street Journal
asserts that the long-time executive has been deeply involved with many reports of sexual harassment and discrimination infecting the once well respected video game publisher. The article, driven largely by unnamed sources inside Activision Blizzard, recounts several years worth of misconduct across the company's development studios - with Bobby Kotick seemingly at the center of it all.
Jen Oneal Lacked Faith in Activision's Leadership
Celebration turned to bewilderment after the
newly promoted co-lead of Blizzard Entertainment
sudden departure from the company
, after only three months on the job. Despite being relatively new to the studio, joining Blizzard that year as part of Activision's plan to replace the studio's struggling
Classic Games Division
, she had gained a great deal of goodwill for her leadership of Vicarious Visions and visibility as the first woman promoted to lead one of business units, though she never embraced the public light the same way as her counterpart, Mike Ybarra.
The Wall Street Journal paints a different picture however, describing an internal email to Activision's legal team in which Oneal professes a lack of faith in the leadership to meaningfully change the toxic culture infecting Activision Blizzard. The Journal recounts that the former head of Vicarious Visions, who started in Quality Assurance in the late 90's, was deeply troubled by her thirty years of experience within the company.
The Wall Street Journal
In August, Activision named a longtime employee, Jennifer Oneal, to be Blizzard’s co-head, making her the first woman to lead one of the company’s business units. The following month, she sent an email to a member of Activision’s legal team in which she professed a lack of faith in Activision’s leadership to turn the culture around, saying “it was clear that the company would never prioritize our people the right way.”
Ms. Oneal said in the email she had been sexually harassed earlier in her career at Activision, and that she was paid less than her male counterpart at the helm of Blizzard, and wanted to discuss her resignation. “I have been tokenized, marginalized, and discriminated against,” wrote Ms. Oneal, who is Asian-American and gay.
Kotick Intervenes to Save Executives
A now all too familiar scandal arose in 2017 after a female employee accused Dan Bunting, then co-head of Activision's Treyarch studio, of sexually harassing her after a night of drinking. The Journal recounts this story, asserting that although an internal investigation conducted in 2019 recommended that Bunting be fired, Kotick personally intervened to keep the executive on board.
This is disputed by Activision's spokesperson, who said that while human resources began reporting to the corporate office in 2019, an outside investigation in 2020 concluded in disciplinary measures rather than terminating Bunting and that Kotick isn't generally involved in the hiring, compensation, or termination decisions of most employees. It should be noted that Bunting left the studio this month, following the Journal's investigation into the story.
The Wall Street Journal
Dan Bunting, co-head of Activision’s Treyarch studio, was accused by a female employee of sexually harassing her in 2017 after a night of drinking, according to people familiar with the incident. Activision’s human-resources department and other supervisors launched an internal investigation in 2019 and recommended that he be fired, but Mr. Kotick intervened to keep him, these people said. Mr. Bunting, who led Treyarch through the production of several successful Call of Duty games, was given counseling and allowed to remain at the company, these people said.
A Vindictive Millionaire
Another story involving Kotick directly is actually old news. The Journal recounts the story of flight attendant Cythina Madvig, who sued Kotick for
wrongful termination in 2007
after being fired in response to her sexual misconduct allegations against pilot Phil Berg. Although the story was given very little attention at the time, it
resurfaced in 2010
due to a legal dispute between Kotick and his original legal counsel which resulted in paying out nearly $1.5 million to his former attorney.
Although records of the testimony no longer exist, the Journal quotes Kotick as saying "I'm going to destroy you" rather than settle with the defendant, which is very similar to the
LA Times Blog
from 2010, in which an arbitrator recounts that “Mr. Kotick wanted to destroy the other side and not to pay Ms. Madvig anything.... Mr. Kotick realized this was not a good business proposition, but said ‘that he was worth one-half billion dollars and he didn’t mind spending some of it on attorneys’ fees.’” In another meeting, the same arbitrator recounted that “Mr. Kotick said ‘he would not be extorted and that he would ruin the Plaintiff and her attorney and see to it that Ms. Madvig would never work again.’”
While these claims were disputed by attorney Anthony Glassman, who said “both the final award and appellate opinion contain numerous second-hand accounts of three-year-old private conversations and statements made during attorney-client meetings that Mr. Kotick did not make and therefore are inaccurate, highly inflammatory and taken out of context.”, the quotes paint a picture of a powerful executive willing to throw his weight around to get what he wants. In another similarly themed recounting, Kotick was accused of harassment directly after the CEO left a threatening voicemail for one of his assistants, in which he purportedly threatened to have her killed.
The Wall Street Journal
In 2006, one of his assistants complained that he had harassed her, including by threatening in a voice mail to have her killed, according to people familiar with the matter. He settled the matter out of court, the people said.
The Activision spokeswoman said: “Mr. Kotick quickly apologized 16 years ago for the obviously hyperbolic and inappropriate voice mail, and he deeply regrets the exaggeration and tone in his voice mail to this day.”
These are just a few of the stories in The Wall Street Journal's extensive coverage into the systemic discrimination and misconduct at Activision Blizzard, and while we cannot verify all of the claims, we highly recommend that you
review the article
in full and formulate an opinion for yourself. Whatever the case, it is clear that the toxicity within Activision Blizzard runs deep. Whether Kotick's
indicate mischaracterization or turning over a new leaf, with each story uncovered, the legacy of a once great video game giant is becoming increasingly tarnished.
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