A new lawsuit against Call of Duty publisher Activision Blizzard by a current employee raises fresh allegations of sexual harassment at the publisher, this time focused on leaders in Blizzard’s IT department. According to the lawsuit, the current employee was repeatedly subjected to unwanted advances, touching, and inappropriate remarks. She says she was retaliated against after reporting it to HR and subsequently passed over for promotions in an attempt to force her out of the company.
Filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on March 23, the new lawsuit represents a current employee (referred to as Ms. Doe) who first came forward with these allegations in a press conference last December. It claims that despite public promises by Activision Blizzard to support victims, it has continued to retaliate against the employee in the months since she came forward.
The lawsuit says she was passed over for a promotion weeks later and given no reason why. It also says that in January, the company lied in an email to other employees, saying she had been fired. “Activision Blizzard’s relentless efforts to push her out continued on February 1, 2022, when it hired two new temporary employees to perform the exact duties Ms. Doe performed,” the lawsuit reads.
The lawsuit also goes into new detail about the apparent sexual misconduct that took place in Blizzard’s IT department, naming among its defendants three former employees: former chief technology officer Ben Kilgore, former chief information officer Derek Ingalls, and former director of IT, Mark Skorupa. The first two were former Microsoft employees prior to Blizzard. Skorupa is currently a Microsoft employee. Microsoft, which is under scrutiny for its own past handling of sexual harassment cases, is currently moving forward with a $US68.7 ($95) billion deal to buy Activision Blizzard.
Activision Blizzard, Ingalls, and Skorupa did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Kilgore could not immediately be reached. Microsoft declined to comment.
The acquisition deal came about when the embattled publisher’s stock price had been falling after months of previous lawsuits and reports alleging years of widespread sexual harassment and discrimination at the company. Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, who is among those accused of failing to address mistreatment, has since apologised to employees, committed to a number of reforms including a new zero tolerance policy for harassment, and entered into a tentative $US18 ($25) million settlement with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commision.
After the planned acquisition was announced in January, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella praised Kotick’s business acumen and said he was grateful for “his leadership and commitment to real change” in the months since the allegations first became public in July 2021. This latest lawsuit’s new allegation of retaliation, however, raises questions about how sweeping and deep some of the company’s reforms have gone.
In the lawsuit, the employee says the sexual harassment began on her very first day at Blizzard, in 2017, when she was taken out to lunch and repeatedly encouraged to take shots of tequila. At one point Skorupa, her boss, “forced his hand on Ms. Doe’s lap.” Other instances allegedly included unwanted hugs by Skorupa and Kilgore, comments about her breasts, and other inappropriate remarks. The lawsuit accuses Ingalls of coercing her to stay late with other male employees and play a Jackbox party game which often revolved around sexual jokes. It also alleges that an executive administrative assistant once propositioned her for sex, and that a senior IT manager tried to kiss her. Both are still currently employed at Blizzard.
According to the lawsuit, none of the named employees intervened to stop the harassment or report it to HR. Instead, it alleges the employee was retaliated against after she first reported the abuse herself, in August 2018, by losing responsibilities and being subsequently denied promotions or relocations out of the department. It alleges that in one instance HR tried to excuse the offending behaviour, and in another said it would address the issues, but apparently never did. She claims it wasn’t until she wrote to then-Blizzard president J. Allen Brack in 2019 about the sexual harassment that she was able to secure a position somewhere else in the company, though for less pay.
According to their LinkedIn profiles, Ingalls left Blizzard in August 2019 for a job at Amazon and Skorupa left in December 2019 to return to Microsoft. Kilgore was reportedly terminated in August 2018, after an investigation into multiple allegations of sexual misconduct. The lawsuit alleges that when this happened, several men in leadership at Blizzard posed for a photo, in which they all gave the middle finger, and Ingalls later emailed it to others. “This photo signalled to Ms. Doe that leadership thought Defendant KILGORE’s departure for sexual misconduct was a joke,” the lawsuit claims.
Prior to being hired at Blizzard, Kilgore was a high-profile VP of Xbox program management at Microsoft, where he helped ship the Xbox One. Ingalls worked with him on the launch as a long-time general manager on Xbox Live operations. Skorupa was a program manager on Xbox. After Kilgore was terminated, Ingalls reportedly “joked” in a meeting about how staff shouldn’t sleep with their assistants.
Blizzard’s Microsoft connections persist to this day. Its current president, Mike Ybarra, was VP of Game Pass before joining the Overwatch maker in 2019. “Dinner with Kilgore and Ingalls tonight, should be fun seeing friends,” he tweeted in October 2019. “Funny how roles/jobs drift folks apart.”
In addition to damages for lost wages, humiliation, mental distress, and other harms, the latest Activision Blizzard lawsuit also seeks court orders to compel Activision to institute a rotating HR department to avoid conflicts of interest and to fire CEO Bobby Kotick. Kotick is expected to step down after the Microsoft deal closes, but not before leaving with an estimated $US390 ($541) million payout as a result of the acquisition.
The law office representing Kotick did not immediately respond to a request for comment.