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Blizzard president, HR chief exit games giant in wake of sexual harassment uproar

Lawsuit, employee walkout elicit reform promises from Diablo goliath

Activision Blizzard on Tuesday announced new leadership for Blizzard Entertainment group following a recent sex discrimination and harassment lawsuit filed by California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) and an employee walkout demanding better working conditions.

"Starting today, J. Allen Brack will be stepping down as the leader of the studio, and Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra will co-lead Blizzard moving forward," the video games goliath said in a letter to the Blizzard community.

An Activision Blizzard spokesperson confirmed to The Register that Jesse Meschuk, the company's head of global human resources – a department accused in the aforementioned lawsuit of failing to take harassment complaints seriously – has also stepped down.

Blizzard Entertainment is behind a string of popular computer game families, such as Diablo, Hearthstone, Overwatch, StarCraft, and Warcraft. It merged with Activision in 2008. About 20 per cent of Activision Blizzard's 9,500 employees are women.

In a press release announcing the management change, Activision Blizzard president and chief operating officer Daniel Alegre said, "With their many years of industry experience and deep commitment to integrity and inclusivity, I am certain Jen and Mike will lead Blizzard with care, compassion and a dedication to excellence."

The DFEH lawsuit, filed on July 20, argues that the gaming titan's treatment of women employees lacked both care and compassion. It alleges that the company's "'frat boy' culture is a breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women."

The legal filing claims that numerous complaints about unlawful harassment, discrimination, and retaliation were made to human resource personnel and to Blizzard Entertainment President J. Allen Brack, yet the business failed to take effective remedial action.

"Employees were further discouraged from complaining as human resource personnel were known to be close to alleged harassers," the complaint stated.

Activision Blizzard's initial response to the lawsuit was to deny that the charges reflect the current state of the company and to criticize the DFEH for inappropriately bringing up a worker's suicide. It was alleged in the lawsuit that a woman working at Blizzard killed herself "while on a company trip due to a sexual relationship she had been having with her male supervisor," and that earlier during a holiday party, male colleagues had been sharing an intimate and compromising photo of her.

Following Activision Blizzard's push back against the allegations, about 2,000 employees signed an internal letter criticizing the company's response to the lawsuit.

That prompted Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick last Tuesday to send a letter [PDF] to employees apologizing for the corporation's "tone deaf" response and announcing the hiring of law firm WilmerHale "to conduct a review of our policies and procedures to ensure that we have and maintain best practices to promote a respectful and inclusive workplace."

On its website, the law firm touts its training program for "advising on union awareness and avoidance."

The following day, July 28, 2021, after expressing dissatisfaction with Kotick's apology, employees staged a walkout seeking changes, such as an end to mandatory arbitration clauses, the publication of compensation data, and hiring diversity commitments.

Outgoing Blizzard President J. Allen Brack said, "I am confident that Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra will provide the leadership Blizzard needs to realize its full potential and will accelerate the pace of change."

Oneal, who previously ran gaming studio Vicarious Visions, joined Blizzard Entertainment in January as EVP of development. Ybarra, a former Microsoft Xbox exec, joined Blizzard in 2019 as EVP and general manager of platform and technology.

In its community letter, Blizzard said, "Both leaders are deeply committed to all of our employees; to the work ahead to ensure Blizzard is the safest, most welcoming workplace possible for women, and people of any gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or background; to upholding and reinforcing our values; and to rebuilding your trust." ®

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