A federal judge Tuesday gave final approval to a settlement reached last year between Activision Blizzard and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regarding the video game company’s systemic culture of sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination, and retaliation.
The consent decree lays out numerous remedial measures Activision Blizzard must undertake that are relevant to chief compliance officers across the technology sector.
“Activision Blizzard is not alone in this industry,” said Anna Park, the EEOC’s regional attorney for the Los Angeles District Office, during a press conference Wednesday. In 2016, the EEOC issued a report focused on problems in the technology industry, mainly concerning the lack of women in the pipeline and the retention of female employees because of persistent instances of harassment.
“We hope the tech industry, as a whole, takes this opportunity to take stock in their own practices and look to implement the relief laid out in this decree,” Park said.
The details: As announced in September, Activision Blizzard will pay $18 million in monetary relief. The scope of the settlement covers all U.S. locations of Activision Blizzard, Blizzard Entertainment, Activision Publishing, and King.com (collectively referred to as Activision Blizzard) and the entities’ subsidiaries. These locations include California, Texas, Wisconsin, New York, Minnesota, and Arkansas.
In addition, Activision Blizzard agreed to hire a third-party equal employment opportunity (EEO) consultant, overseen by the EEOC, to perform a “comprehensive review” of the company’s progress regarding remedial measures. It will further hire or designate an internal EEO coordinator to track, oversee, and guide the EEO consultant in carrying out the terms of the consent decree.
“The remedies are focused on accountability and ensuring that the company … takes corrective and swift preventative measures to make sure the workplace is free of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation,” Park said.
Specific measures to be carried out by the consultant include:
- Workplace audits on complaints to ensure they are being handled effectively;
- Unannounced visits to talk to current employees to assess whether sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination, and related retaliation issues are being properly addressed;
- A review of the content and effectiveness of all antiharassment and antidiscrimination training, including bystander intervention training, training for human resources personnel related to HR investigations, and training of management and supervisors;
- Evaluation of Activision Blizzard’s disciplinary framework and protocols to ensure actions taken by the companies lead to effective corrective and preventative measures;
- Implementation of climate surveys as determined by the EEO consultant; and
- Semiannual reports issued to the EEOC for review for the duration of the decree.
The consultant will also conduct a comprehensive review of Activision Blizzard’s policies and procedures and provide feedback.
“What is very specific to this industry are policies … relating to fraternization and drinking,” Park said. “These were key elements that we found problematic with the company. And, with that, the consultant will be working with them to remediate the policies that exist.”
Activision Blizzard must also have in place a centralized tracking system for complaints of discrimination and harassment; comprehensive record-keeping and reporting mechanisms; and implement a performance review system for managers, supervisors, and HR personnel.
Employee remedies: Activision Blizzard must make available mental health counseling services to its employees and have in place a toll-free hotline for employees and staffing agency workers to report complaints, even anonymously, that must be monitored 24/7.
The decree also provides for victim-specific relief to allow for employees who have experienced sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination, or related retaliation to remove potentially harmful information from their personnel files so they can move forward with a clean record.
Activision Blizzard response: “Our goal is to make Activision Blizzard a model for the industry, and we will continue to focus on eliminating harassment and discrimination from our workplace,” said Chief Executive Bobby Kotick in a press release. “The court’s approval of this settlement is an important step in ensuring that our employees have mechanisms for recourse if they experienced any form of harassment or retaliation.”
Microsoft in January announced its planned acquisition of Activision Blizzard in an all-cash transaction valued at $68.7 billion. The deal is expected to close in fiscal year 2023.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Anna Park as Christine Park-Gonzalez, the EEOC’s Los Angeles acting district director. The story was corrected April 5.
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