Ethical Dilemma

Aug 12, 2021 |

“Activision Blizzard Employees Sign Petition Denouncing Company’s ‘Abhorrent’ Response to Lawsuit”

https://www.cnn.com/2021/07/26/tech/activision-blizzard-employee-petition-lawsuit/index.html

According to the article, pressure on Activision Blizzard is mounting as more than 2,000 current and former employees signed a petition slamming what they see as the video game company’s “abhorrent and insulting” response to a California lawsuit.

The petition, which was circulated by the media recently, criticized the company’s statements following a lawsuit filed last week by California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which alleged that multiple female employees were subjected to gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and unequal pay.

Activision Blizzard, the publisher of hugely popular games such as “Call of Duty” and “World of Warcraft,” is headquartered in Santa Monica, California, and has approximately 9,500 employees, according to the state’s filing.

The company’s director of corporate communications, Kelvin Liu, blasted the state’s filing and investigation as “inaccurate” and “distorted” in a statement following the lawsuit. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment the petition.

The company’s statements in response to the lawsuit “are abhorrent and insulting to all that we believe our company should stand for,” the petition said. “To put it clearly and unequivocally, our values as employees are not accurately reflected in the words and actions of our leadership.

The petition also cited an internal statement by Frances Townsend, Activision Blizzard’s executive vice president of corporate affairs, in which she reportedly described the lawsuit’s allegations as “factually incorrect, old and out of context.”

The petition calls for “official statements that recognize the seriousness of these allegations and demonstrate compassion for victims of harassment and assault,” and for Townsend to resign her position as executive sponsor of the company’s employee women’s network.

“We call on the executive leadership team to work with us on new and meaningful efforts that ensure employees — as well as our community — have a safe place to speak out and come forward,” it added.

Townsend did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Several former employees have detailed their experiences at Activision Blizzard on social media since last week’s lawsuit, which accuses the company of fostering a “frat boy” work culture where female employees have to “continually fend off unwanted sexual comments and advances by their male coworkers.”

The complaint also alleges that “the company’s executives and human resources personnel knew of the harassment and failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the unlawful conduct, and instead retaliated against women who complained.”

Discussion Questions

1. As indicated in the article, Activision Blizzard’s director of corporate communications, Kelvin Liu, blasted the state’s filing and investigation as “inaccurate” and “distorted” in a statement following the lawsuit. In your reasoned opinion, is there anything inappropriate about this response? Does not Activision Blizzard have the legal right to defend itself? Explain your response.

This is an opinion question, and student responses may vary. Admittedly, Activision Blizzard does have the legal right to defend itself, but in the interest of public relations (including relations with its employees,) Activision Blizzard should arguably focus on its defense in the courtroom rather than in the media.

2. As indicated in the article, in an internal statement by Frances Townsend, Activision Blizzard’s executive vice president of corporate affairs, Ms. Townsend reportedly described the lawsuit’s allegations as “factually incorrect, old and out of context.” In your reasoned opinion, is there anything inappropriate about this response? Does not Activision Blizzard have the ethical right to defend itself in the “hearts and minds” of its 9,500 employees? Explain your response.

This is an opinion question, so student responses may vary. Again, Activision Blizzard does have the legal right to defend itself, and that includes the right to defend itself within its organization. Employee relations matter, and in support of Ms. Townsend, aggressive denial of the allegations included in the lawsuit could be a way to preserve employee relations (or to at least do “damage control.”) Obviously, it would be unethical (and illegal) to assert that the lawsuit’s allegations are “factually incorrect” if there is no substantive basis for making such an assertion.

3. As indicated in the article, the subject petition calls for “official statements (from executive leadership) that recognize the seriousness of these allegations and demonstrate compassion for victims of harassment and assault.” In your reasoned opinion, does executive leadership have an ethical responsibility to respond accordingly? Why or why not?

This is an opinion question, so student responses may vary. In your author’s opinion, official statements from executive leadership that recognize the seriousness of the lawsuit’s allegations and demonstrate compassion for victims of harassment and assault would be the right thing to do in this case. Publishing such statements would not concede liability but would instead demonstrate to the public and to its employees that Activision Blizzard opposes harassment and assault in the workplace.