Activision Blizzard Employees Plan Walkout Protest Re: Lawsuit

Amora R Jelo

The iconic Blizzard orc statue issues a rallying cry. Photo: Blizzard Following days of informal protests and denouncements of their company’s response to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing lawsuit, Activision Blizzard employees are holding a formal walkout Wednesday, July 28, calling on leadership to improve conditions for […]

A photo of the wolf-riding orc statue outside Blizzard HQ in Irvine, California.

The iconic Blizzard orc statue issues a rallying cry.
Photo: Blizzard

Following days of informal protests and denouncements of their company’s response to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing lawsuit, Activision Blizzard employees are holding a formal walkout Wednesday, July 28, calling on leadership to improve conditions for women, particularly women of color, transgender women, nonbinary people, and other marginalized groups. Update: As the walkout gains support from around the gaming world, Activision Blizzard offers employees paid time off to participate.

The protest event, formally known as the Activision Blizzard Walkout for Equality, will be held tomorrow virtually from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT, with a live event staged at the Blizzard campus in Irvine, California from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Employees unable to attend in person are asked to stop their work during these times and signal boost via social media using the hashtag #ActiBlizzWalkout. Turnout is expected to be about 50 or more in person, with many more joining virtually for the sake of covid-19 safety.

“We are encouraging employees to take whatever time off they feel safe to do,” an employee rep told Kotaku. “Most of us plan to take the full day off (without pay), but we understand some people like contractors and associates, and those who are paid less than they deserve, might not have the ability to do so.”

The announcement of the walkout is accompanied by a statement of intent letter addressed to Activision Blizzard management. The letter states that employees believe their values are not being reflected by management and issues a series of demands meant to improve working conditions for those subjected to harassment and discrimination. These demands include an end to mandatory arbitration, which forces complaining employees into extra-legal mediation rather than public court cases, revised recruiting, hiring, and promotion policies, pay rate transparency, and the hiring of a third-party organization to review the company’s reporting policy, HR department, and executive staff.

Statement of Intent

Given last week’s statements from Activision Blizzard, Inc. and their legal counsel regarding the DFEH lawsuit, as well as the subsequent internal statement from Frances Townsend, and the many stories shared by current and former employees of Activision Blizzard since, we believe that our values as employees are not being accurately reflected in the words and actions of our leadership.

As current Activision Blizzard employees, we are holding a walkout to call on the executive leadership team to work with us on the following demands, in order to improve conditions for employees at the company, especially women, and in particular women of color and transgender women, nonbinary people, and other marginalized groups.

1. An end to mandatory arbitration clauses in all employee contracts, current and future. Arbitration clauses protect abusers and limit the ability of victims to seek restitution.

2. The adoption of recruiting, interviewing, hiring, and promotion policies designed to improve representation among employees at all levels, agreed upon by employees in a company-wide Diversity, Equity & Inclusion organization. Current practices have led to women, in particular women of color and transgender women, nonbinary people, and other marginalized groups that are vulnerable to gender discrimination not being hired fairly for new roles when compared to men.

3. Publication of data on relative compensation (including equity grants and profit sharing), promotion rates, and salary ranges for employees of all genders and ethnicities at the company. Current practices have led to aforementioned groups not being paid or promoted fairly.

4. Empower a company-wide Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion task force to hire a third party to audit ABK’s reporting structure, HR department, and executive staff. It is imperative to identify how current systems have failed to prevent employee harassment, and to propose new solutions to address these issues.

This is not the first time a major video game company has faced an employee walkout based on issues of discrimination and harassment. In 2019, over 150 employees at the Los Angeles offices of Riot Games staged a walkout after the publisher filed a motion to force two employees with pending lawsuits against the company into forced arbitration, which is the same issue Activision Blizzard employees are seeking to put an end to in their first demand.

Employees at Activision Blizzard have been speaking out publicly against the company’s response to the state of California’s two-year investigation, which highlights multiple examples of sexism, sexual harassment, and poor working conditions at the company, since news of the lawsuit went live last Wednesday. Yesterday more than 1,000 employees signed a letter calling out Activision Blizzard’s official response to the news of California’s lawsuit, in which the company claimed the DFEH’s findings of widespread sexual harassment and discrimination against female employees were “distorted, and in many cases false” and did not reflect the present day culture at Blizzard.

Multiple current and former Blizzard higher-ups have commented on the allegations against the company. Blizzard president J. Allen Brack sent an internal email to the company, calling the allegations “extremely troubling.” Former Blizzard boss Mike Morhaime apologized for his failure to create a safe and welcoming workplace. Yesterday Diablo co-creator Chris Metzen, who left Blizzard in 2016, apologized for his role in creating a “culture that fostered harassment, inequality, and indifference.”

Walkout organizers also included a message for non-Activision Blizzard members of the gaming community who’d like to show their support for their effort, urging them to post on social media with the #ActiBlizzWalkout hashtag and using the blue heart emoji. They also urge anyone wishing to stand in solidarity with them to donate to one of the following charities.

Update 7/28/2021 10 a.m.: Blizzard managers informed their teams yesterday that employees participating in the walkout would get paid time off for it, according to two sources with knowledge of the announcement.

Meanwhile, the #ActiBlizzWalkout hashtag is trending on gaming Twitter, as support from gamers and developers around the world pours in. Gamers, in particular, are calling for a boycott on playing Activision Blizzard games for the duration of the event.

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