Activision Blizzard has committed to strengthen its culture to prevent sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination, and retaliation under an $18 million settlement announced Monday with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
The agreement’s boilerplate terms in many ways mirror the terms ride-sharing company Uber reached with the EEOC in 2019—except its void of any accountability.
Like Uber, Activision Blizzard’s deal with the EEOC, which is subject to court approval, ends an “extensive investigation,” in which the agency found “reasonable cause” the company engaged in a culture that subjected female employees to sexual harassment and related retaliation, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
According to the EEOC’s initial complaint against Activision Blizzard and its affiliates, “employees were subjected to sexual harassment that was severe or pervasive,” and the company “failed to take corrective and preventative measures” upon receiving reports of sexual harassment.
In reaching a deal with the EEOC, Activision Blizzard agreed to establish a fund for those identified by the agency as potential claimants; agreed to update its policies with input from an EEOC-approved equal employment opportunity (EEO) consultant who will have carte blanche over the company’s documents and employees; and agreed to be monitored for three years to ensure compliance with the provisions of the consent decree.
Also, Activision Blizzard will be subject to departmental audits by the EEO consultant (which might be unannounced). “If, through the audit of pending and current complaints there are departments and/or functions that are discovered, considering the totality of the circumstances, to have had repeated and/or widespread instances of sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination and/or related retaliation … the EEO Consultant shall recommend corrective measures and/or preventative steps for any unresolved complaint,” the consent decree states.
Beyond this boilerplate compliance language, however, the overall tone of the consent decree is concerning. Unlike Uber’s agreement with the EEOC, in which it committed to hold management accountable and identify repeat offenders, Activision Blizzard’s management and others are merely “enjoined” from engaging in sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation, or “any practice that creates a hostile work environment.”
Activision Blizzard’s tone is all over the place. In the consent decree, the company “expressly den[ied]” all allegations against it. Meanwhile, CEO Bobby Kotick stated, “I am sorry that anyone had to experience inappropriate conduct.” Kotick reiterated he “remain[s] unwavering” in his commitment “to make Activision Blizzard one of the world’s most inclusive, respected, and respectful workplaces.”
As prudent chief ethics and compliance officers know, promoting a truly inclusive workplace extends beyond policies, practices, and training. It’s walking the walk, supported by a diverse leadership team. Of the 14 people on Activision Blizzard’s leadership team, just four are women—all of whom joined in the last year and a half.
Ethics and compliance professionals also know a truly respected and respectful workplace must begin with a foundation of respect that starts at the top and trickles down throughout the global organization. Given several of Activision Blizzard’s top brass, including Kotick, have been subpoenaed by the Securities and Exchange Commission regarding the company’s disclosures on employment matters—and face several other legal complaints—the real proof of its cultural aspirations lies not in an EEOC consent decree, but rather in the corrective measures, preventative steps, and accountability it accepts moving forward.