Employees at Blizzard Entertainment Inc. in Irvine, California staged a walkout this Wednesday following the Activision Blizzard lawsuit filed by the state of California on July 20. The walkout takes place two days after over 3100 Activision Blizzard employees signed an open letter demanding change and for management to “hold our leaders and companies accountable to the values we signed onto when joining.”
Upwards of 350 people lined the sidewalks on either side of the headquarter’s main entrance, holding signs and chanting. Employees wore Blizzard shirts and other gear, some bringing family and friends alongside them in protest. The lawsuit focuses on gender-based discrimination and harassment, and in response, employees are demanding safety and equality for “women, and in particular women of color, transgender women, nonbinary people, and other marginalized groups.” At the walkout many were holding signs plastered with phrases such as “women’s voices matter’’ or “fight bad guys in game, fight bad guys in real life.”
Companies donated food trucks to the event, and others provided porta potties for employees who attended. Blizzard leadership had also announced that all who attended the event would be receiving paid time off. For those who couldn’t attend the in-person event, there was also a virtual protest that took place in World of Warcraft. Players conducted a mass logout that coincided with the in-person walkout at 1 p.m. ET.
When the lawsuit was originally filed, Activision Blizzard executive Fran Townsend challenged the charges in an email sent out to employees. The email was posted to Twitter by Bloomberg reporter Jason Schreier, where Townsend wrote that the 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.” Employees, many of whom have shared their own stories of discrimination in the workplace, refuted this, calling the response “abhorrent” in their open letter. The open letter and walkout prompted a response from Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, who sent an email and a public statement to employees acknowledging the fact that the company’s original response was careless. In the statement Kotick thanks employees for coming forward and says that “I appreciate your courage. Every voice matters—and we will do a better job of listening now, and in the future. Our initial responses to the issues we face together, and to your concerns, were, quite frankly, tone deaf.”
Following the company-wide email, the company hired law firm WilmerHale to review Activision Blizzard’s policies and procedures. The law firm, notably the same used by Amazon to prevent workers from unionizing, will go into effect immediately. With its union-busting history, the choice to bring in WilmerHale raises many red flags, and has made already skeptical employees more dubious about the sincerity of Kotick’s statement.
WilmerHale partners also have a habit of moving back and forth between the firm and positions in the U.S. government. Stephanie Avakian, a WilmerHale partner who is leading the review process within Activision Blizzard, was also formerly the enforcement director for the Securities and Exchange Commission under Donald Trump. Following a change in administration, Avakian returned to WilmerHale in February, and a number of progressive groups) sent an open letter to the current U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland encouraging Garland to put a stop to the “revolving door” between big law and government.
With employees putting so much on the line to demand change within the company, Activision Blizzard leadership carries a large weight of responsibility to cater to the needs of their workers. However, their recent responses and changes don’t seem to be meeting the demands of their employees, and could result in a cycle of employee needs that are continuously unmet.