'More Than 20' Activision Blizzard Employees Have 'Exited' Over Harassment Lawsuit

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© Screenshot: CBS / Viacom Activision Blizzard executive Fran Townsend

Activision Blizzard’s Fran Townsend

With the company still mired in lawsuits spurred on by historical allegations of harassment, Activision Blizzard has used an interview with the Financial Times to disclose that a number of employees have “exited”, and more “disciplined”, in the wake of the case.

Speaking with the FT (paywalled), Activision Blizzard’s Chief Compliance Officer Fran Townsend says “It doesn’t matter what your rank is, what your job is. If you’ve committed some sort of misconduct or you’re a leader who has tolerated a culture that is not consistent with our values, we’re going to take action.”

She says that in the wake of the lawsuit becoming public “more than 20 individuals have exited Activision Blizzard”, while “more than 20 individuals faced other types of disciplinary action”. She did not name any of the employees affected.

Speaking of leaders and values, in the wake of the DFEH’s suit first becoming public earlier this year, Townsend sent an email to staff calling it “meritless”, a move so widely criticised it was specifically mentioned as a cause of a staff walkout, while she was also pressured to step down as sponsor for the company’s women’s network. Townsend also deleted her personal Twitter account after criticising whistleblowers and blocking Activision Blizzard employees.

In a previous and more public position prior to her appointment in March as Activision Blizzard’s vice president for corporate affairs, corporate secretary, and chief compliance officer, Townsend served Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism during the Bush administration, where she “went onto defend the Bush administration’s use of torture, including waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and forced nudity.”

The FT interview follows an email Townsend sent to all employees at the company, which you can read below:

Everyone,

As one of the world’s largest and most influential companies, our future depends on fostering a company culture where all feel safe and heard. That comes with the responsibility of earning our employees’ confidence that, when they speak up, we’ll do the right thing. We must earn our team’s confidence that, when they speak up, they will be heard. I have been quietly listening over the last few months to your comments, concerns, and observations. I am grateful to everyone who shared their points of view – especially those who challenged us to do better. It’s important to me that you know how seriously I take this, and how committed I am to the next steps we will take together. We are working tirelessly to ensure that, moving forward, this is a place where people are not only heard, but empowered.

We have a committed team dedicated to this work. However, in listening to feedback over the past several months it is clear to me that we need to do more, and with a renewed urgency. We have expanded our compliance team and have even greater initiatives already underway to enable meaningful improvements to our company’s culture.

Working with Jen Brewer and the team, we have thoroughly evaluated our broader compliance, employee relations, and investigative procedures, including how we handle claims and communicate with the members of our team who are involved. And today, I would like to highlight our progress on all these goals, along with some changes to build a more accountable workplace and culture.

Among the input we have received, there have been several clear and actionable recommendations, from many of you and from our Ethics & Compliance team. Among them, three key themes emerged:

– First, do not hesitate to terminate or discipline those who violate our policies and fail to contribute to a positive culture that treats all members of our team with respect.Second, be transparent, not only about our investigations processes, but also about the actions we take.Third, invest resources and people into ethics, culture, and training.

First, I wanted to give you a sense of the work we’ve been doing to investigate all claims and concerns raised by members of our team:

Ongoing Investigations: Nothing is more important to me – and the entirety of Activision Blizzard leadership – than making sure everyone feels safe and equal in this workplace. There is no place for harassment, discrimination, or retaliation in this company.

In recent months, we have received an increase in reports through various reporting channels. People are bringing to light concerns, ranging from years ago to the present. We welcome these reports, and our team has been working to investigate them, using a combination of internal and external resources. Based on the information received in the initial report, they are assigned into different categories, and resources are allocated to prioritize the most serious reports first. In connection with various resolved reports, more than 20 individuals have exited Activision Blizzard and more than 20 individuals faced other types of disciplinary action.

We continue to look into any issues or reports raised through the many channels that are available. But it bears repeating: Reports can be submitted anonymously, and there is zero tolerance for retaliation of any kind.

Second, we have begun work to improve how we address complaints, including the restructuring of two teams, Ethics & Compliance and Employee Relations, to more efficiently and effectively handle the investigation of complaints.

Ethics & Compliance Team Leadership: I am very happy to announce the promotion of Jen Brewer to Senior Vice President, Ethics and Compliance. Jen has already been skillfully guiding the compliance function for many years. More importantly, she has been instrumental in helping me to reimagine how our investigative, training, and employee relations functions can work better together, along with the resources those teams will need to make our company better.

– Way To Play Heroes: These are the Ethics & Compliance program’s unsung heroes. They volunteer their time to build bridges – by helping fellow members of our team navigate their reporting options, championing speaking up, and advising us on how we can strengthen the Ethics & Compliance program. The Heroes are crucial to our success. We are expanding the program by adding more Heroes and investing resources to better support the work they do. I am pleased to announce that effective immediately, Heroes will receive one additional vacation day a quarter to recognize their contributions to this very important work.

– Investigation Team Resources: Ensuring we have the capability to properly look into reports is critical. In the past couple months, we have already added three full-time positions to address the workload. Moving forward, we plan to scale this significantly, adding 19 full-time roles to our overall Ethics & Compliance Team, which include team members dedicated to investigations, including the ability to take live calls, as well as data analytics and communications, to help us understand how we’re doing and help us better convey results of our work. Two of those roles will be specifically dedicated to overseeing investigations related to the EMEA and APAC regions.

– Investigation Team Structure: We are combining our investigations groups into one centralized unit within a central ABK Ethics & Compliance Department, which will be separate from business units and other groups like Human Resources or Employee Relations. This will allow investigators to be more efficient and coordinated, aligned on approach, and enable consistent decision making. It also allows us to scale resources more appropriately versus considering how to allocate team members across disparate units.

– Employee Relations Team: Alongside improving how we investigate concerns or claims, we need to consider how best to communicate with members of our team affected by these issues. Working with Chief People Officer Julie Hodges, this will be a key focus for the Employee Relations team. This will allow us to better bridge our improved investigative process to a recommended action, whether it’s discipline, additional training, or other next steps. Our goal is to broaden our team of individuals with considerable human resources experience, ensuring we handle complaints and concerns with the care and attention they deserve.

Transparency: We are working on additional materials that document our investigative procedures and outline what members of our team who report misconduct can expect during the investigative process. We are also working to ensure communications are transparent and time sensitive for any members of our team involved in investigations. Even more, we want to provide data reporting so we remain accountable, even if we can’t always share what is happening behind the scenes. We know there’s a desire to know about the outcome when misconduct is reported. Sometimes, there are privacy reasons we can’t share. But where we can, we will be sharing more information with you. We will also be providing you regular aggregate data about investigative outcomes.

Improving Training: We are preparing to triple our investment in training resources. Our intent is to deliver meaningful, real-life, scenario-based live and online training required for all members of our team, including executives – covering bystander training, speaking up, and training managers to recognize concerns and understand their obligations to escalate situations urgently and appropriately.

We are committed to making meaningful and positive change, and this is just the start. We will be sharing additional updates in the coming weeks and months. We know there is always more work to do. We are committed to continuing that work. Please continue to share your ideas and suggestions, in whatever ways you want to send them. We will work hard every day to earn your trust and confidence. Together, let’s ensure that we always have a safe, inclusive, and ethical workplace that makes us all proud.

Best,

Fran

Update – 7:20 p.m. ET: Headline has been updated.

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