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Activision CEO Apologizes After Employees Threaten to Walk Out

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(Bloomberg) -- Activision Blizzard Inc. Chief Executive Officer Bobby Kotick responded to the threat of an employee walkout with an all-staff email Tuesday, apologizing and calling the company’s recent actions “tone deaf.”

Employees at Activision Blizzard called for the walkout on Wednesday to protest the company’s responses to a recent sexual discrimination lawsuit and demanding more equitable treatment for underrepresented staff.

In Kotick’s message, the CEO said the company had hired law firm WilmerHale to conduct a review of its policies and promised “swift action” to ensure a “safe environment” and to stamp out harassment. Kotick also promised that the company would take steps including personnel changes, encouraging diversity in hiring and removing inappropriate in-game content.

The controversy at Activistion Blizzard started last week, after California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued the publisher behind games like Call of Duty and World of Warcraft, detailing disturbing incidents of sexual harassment and assault and a culture in which women faced unequal pay and retaliation. Activision called the allegations false and distorted in a statement last week, and Fran Townsend, executive vice president for corporate affairs, sent a letter to staff echoing that claim.

Infuriated Activision employees have spoken out on social media, and more than 2,000 staff signed an open letter calling the company’s responses “abhorrent and insulting.” Now they’re planning a strike.

The walkout is being organized by a group of employees at the subsidiary Blizzard Entertainment, where the majority of the lawsuit’s allegations were focused. In a statement to Bloomberg, the workers said their goal was 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.”

The strike will take place outside of Blizzard’s campus in Irvine, California, on Wednesday.

The employees are demanding:

That Activision ditch mandatory arbitration clauses “in all employee contracts, current and future.” New practices for recruiting, interviewing, hiring and promotion that facilitate better representation “agreed upon by employees in a company-wide Diversity, Equity & Inclusion organization.” The publication of data on relative compensation, promotion rates and salary ranges for employees “of all genders and ethnicities at the company.” That a diversity task force be allowed to hire a third party to audit the company’s leadership, hierarchy and HR department. “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 the second major organizing effort from Blizzard in about the past 12 months. Last year employees shared their salaries on a public spreadsheet and sent a letter of demands to management to ask for more equitable compensation. That action led to very little response, employees said.

Collective action is rare in the video-game industry, which has no unions in North America. A representative for the Blizzard employees organizing this walkout said they were not currently discussing unionizing.

(Updates to add details from Bobby Kotick’s message to staff starting in the first paragraph. )

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