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More than 800 Activision Blizzard employees and contractors have signed a petition calling for CEO Bobby Kotick to be removed as CEO. Workers walked out in protest earlier this week, following a report published by The Wall Street Journal, which alleged that Kotick knew about sexual misconduct incidents at the company and neglected to inform the board of directors about them. The report also notes that Kotick has been accused of mistreating women on numerous occasions.
Today over 500 current ABK employees and contractors signed a petition calling for the removal of Bobby Kotick as our CEO https://t.co/QP9sOJ76bK
— ABetterABK 💙 ABK Workers Alliance (@ABetterABK) November 18, 2021
"We, the undersigned, no longer have confidence in the leadership of Bobby Kotick as the CEO of Activision Blizzard," the petition reads. "The information that has come to light about his behaviors and practices in the running of our companies runs counter to the culture and integrity we require of our leadership—and directly conflicts with the initiatives started by our peers."
The signees asked for Kotick to step down and for shareholders to choose a new CEO without his influence. The petition notes that Kotick "owns a substantial portion of the voting rights of the shareholders." When employee advocacy group A Better ABK shared the petition on Twitter, it said more than 500 workers had signed it. Hundreds more added their names within a couple of hours.
Among the claims in the report are one that Kotick was the person who wrote an email sent to employees by executive vice president of corporate affairs Frances Townsend after California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit against Activision Blizzard in July. "A recently filed lawsuit presented a distorted and untrue picture of our company, including factually incorrect, old and out of context stories — some from more than a decade ago," the memo read. Hundreds of Blizzard employees slammed the message and demanded "immediate corrections" from company leaders.
The report also shed some light on the departure of Jen Oneal, who was named as a co-lead of Blizzard in August but announced three months later that she was leaving her position. In a September email to the company's legal team, Oneal (who is Asian-American and gay) is said to have written that she had been "tokenized, marginalized, and discriminated against" and that she was paid less than Blizzard co-lead Mike Ybarra. IGN later reported that Ybarra and Oneal asked management for equal compensation, but Oneal said they were only offered equivalent offers after she tendered her resignation.
Following The Journal's report, the Activision Blizzard board publicly gave its backing to Kotick. However, the backlash is intensifying. Before the petition, Polygon and Eurogamer called for him to resign in editorials. A group of activist shareholders, who hold around 0.6 percent of stock and have long criticized Kotick, demanded that he step down.
On top of that, Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO Jim Ryan told his employees that he was “disheartened and frankly stunned to read” The Journal's report. “We outreached to Activision immediately after the article was published to express our deep concern and to ask how they plan to address the claims made in the article,” Ryan wrote in the email, which was leaked. “We do not believe their statements of response properly address the situation.”
This week's report and ensuing pressure on Kotick follows a torrid few months for leaders at Activision Blizzard. After DFEH filed its lawsuit, it emerged that the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating the company. Activision Blizzard is also facing a class action lawsuit from shareholders, who claim it violated securities laws. In addition, workers and the Communication Workers of America filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the company.
When asked for comment, Activision Blizzard directed Engadget to the statement the board of directors made on Tuesday. "The goals we have set for ourselves are both critical and ambitious," it said. "The Board remains confident in Bobby Kotick's leadership, commitment and ability to achieve these goals.”