Activision Blizzard Employees Form Coalition, Reject CEO’s Choice of Law Firm

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A coalition of workers from across multiple Activision Blizzard development studios, calling itself the ABK Workers Alliance, has sent a joint letter to Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick and his executive leadership team criticizing the decision to hire the law firm WilmerHale as a third-party auditor to review the company and ensure a healthier workplace.

In the letter, provided to IGN, employees from across the company’s studios — including Activision, Beenox, Blizzard Entertainment, High Moon Studios, Infinity Ward, King, Sledgehammer Games, Raven Software, and Vicarious Visions — have expressed regret that recent actions from CEO Bobby Kotick did not “meaningfully address” workers’ demands following last week’s high-profile employee walkout.

Last week, Activision Blizzard employees produced an open letter and walked out as a way to push for changes to Activision Blizzard’s working culture, following a lawsuit from the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing claiming Activision Blizzard consistently mistreats female and minority employees.

Activision Blizzard employees also published a list of demands, with a view towards protecting vulnerable employees. These requests included ending forced arbitration in employee agreements, adopting inclusive hiring and recruiting practices, increasing pay transparency, and an audit performed by a neutral third party.

In response, CEO Bobby Kotick sent a letter to employees saying the company’s initial response to the CDFEH’s lawsuit against Activision Blizzard for gender discrimination was “tone-deaf.” As part of the process to improve working conditions, Kotick announced the law firm WilmerHale, led by partner Stephanie Avakian, will conduct a third-party audit of company policies and procedures.

WilmerHale is the subject of The ABK Workers Alliance’s new letter to Kotick and Activision Blizzard leadership. On the demand to bring in a third-party auditor, The ABK Workers Alliance says it rejects the selection of WilmerHale for several reasons. This includes WilmerHale’s conflicting interest due to its “pre-existing relationships with Activision Blizzard and its executives,” WilmerHale’s history of “discouraging workers’ rights and collective action,” and Stephanie Avakian’s history of “protecting the wealthy and powerful.”

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The ABK Workers Alliance’s letter calls on Kotick and the executive leadership team to fully address the list of demands. The employees have also outlined steps they are taking internally to improve their workplace, including worker-to-worker mentorships, open listening sessions, and community meetings.

IGN has learned that Activision Blizzard leadership has received the letter and is currently reviewing it.

With the ABK Workers Alliance’s permission, we have reproduced the full letter below.

Monday, August 2, 2021 

Twitter: @ABetterABK 

To CEO Bobby Kotick and the Activision Blizzard executive leadership team, 

We are The ABK Workers Alliance, an organized group of current Activision Blizzard, Inc. employees committed to defending our right to a safe and equitable workplace. That right remains endangered as the stories of abuse and mistreatment continue to grow in scope, and new accounts of harassment perpetrated by current Activision Blizzard employees have continued to emerge since the publication of the DFEH’s lawsuit. 

Last week, we took collective action to demand better working conditions for women and other marginalized groups at Activision Blizzard King (ABK) by writing an open letter signed by more than 3,000 current employees. We organized the #ActiBlizzWalkout at Blizzard Entertainment’s Irvine headquarters where more than 500 workers walked out and hundreds more participated virtually around the world. 

Our request for action crosses studio lines, including workers from Activision, Beenox, Blizzard Entertainment, High Moon Studios, Infinity Ward, King, Sledgehammer Games, Raven Software, and Vicarious Visions. Our goal is for the executive leadership team to address their response to the California DFEH lawsuit, acknowledge the reality of working conditions across our organization, and commit to meaningful change at Activision Blizzard. 

We communicated a list of four demands aimed at protecting our most vulnerable workers. These are: (1) an end to forced arbitration in employment agreements, (2) the adoption of inclusive recruitment and hiring practices, (3) increases in pay transparency through compensation metrics, and (4) an audit of ABK policies and practices to be performed by a neutral third-party. Importantly, we demanded that this third party be selected by an employee-led Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion task force. 

In response to our demands, you wrote a letter to employees expressing a commitment to doing a better job of listening. You said you would do everything possible to work with employees in improving our workplace. And yet, the solutions you proposed in that letter did not meaningfully address our requests. You ignored our call for an end to mandatory arbitration. You did not commit to adopting inclusive recruitment and hiring practices. You made no comment on pay transparency. 

One of our demands, a third-party audit of ABK practices and policies, was ostensibly addressed by your decision to hire WilmerHale to conduct an internal review. While we commend the idea of hiring a third-party firm to perform an internal review, The ABK Workers Alliance cannot support the choice of WilmerHale as an impartial reviewer.

We reject the selection of WilmerHale for the following reasons: 

● WilmerHale’s pre-existing relationships with Activision Blizzard and its executives create an unacceptable conflict of interest. 

Activision Blizzard has already been a client of WilmerHale, who you used to dispute the Diverse Candidate Search Policy proposed by the AFL-CIO Reserve Fund and UAW Retiree Medical Benefits Trust [1] earlier in 2021. 

Frances Townsend is known to have relationships with multiple partners at WilmerHale, including former FBI Director Robert Mueller [2]

● WilmerHale has a history of discouraging workers’ rights and collective action. ○ WilmerHale states on their public website that their services include “advising on union awareness and avoidance” [3]

WilmerHale used anti-collective action tactics in their work with Amazon & Uber [4]. In media portrayals, WilmerHale is regularly referred to as a “Union Busting Firm” [5, 6, 7]. We are already seeing the effects of this ideology in actions that leadership has taken to restrict our freedom of association since last week, including reducing the size of listening sessions and limiting access to those sessions. 

● The WilmerHale partner leading this investigation, Stephanie Avakian, specializes in protecting the wealthy and powerful. 

WilmerHale outlined Avakian’s work as: “…counseling and defending financial institutions, public and private companies, hedge funds, accounting firms, investment advisors, boards, corporate executives, and individuals facing regulatory and criminal investigations and litigation with the government [8].” 

In Stephanie’s speech highlighting her successes with the SEC, all of her significant examples included achievements in favor of investors, retail clients, and customers, but does not once mention employees or laborers [9]. We need legal representation that centers on the concerns of our current employees, rather than investors. 

We call on you and your executive leadership team to do better, and to fully address our list of demands. We will not abandon our cause. Our ranks continue to grow across multiple Activision Blizzard studios. While there are structural problems that only you can address, we are already taking steps to improve our workplace through a number of employee-driven initiatives: 

Worker-to-Worker Mentorship: We are building a mentorship program where workers can seek career advice, support, and sponsorship from a network of colleagues in a safe external channel outside company communication networks. 

Open Listening Sessions: We will host listening sessions that will be recorded and disseminated across the organization to facilitate ongoing conversation, education, and emotional support for employees. 

Community Meetings: We will facilitate monthly employee meetings, in a secure external channel, to discuss our concerns, desires, and progress toward achieving our goals. All current ABK employees are welcome to participate in these conversations.

As these actions show, we love our studios and care deeply for our colleagues. We share your expressed unwavering commitment to improving our company together. 

We are doing what we can, and we call on you to do what we cannot. 

Sincerely, 

The ABK Workers Alliance 

Twitter: @ABetterABK 

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Want to help? Here is a list of charities to consider donating to.

Credit: MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images / Contributor

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