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Crisis case study: How to turn an employee lawsuit into a brand disaster

by | Aug 16, 2021 | Public Relations

Recently, the employees at the video game studio Activision Blizzard ended up walking off their jobs after news of а sexual harassment and gender discrimination lawsuit inside the company surfaced. Before the scheduled walkout, the employees shared a statement of intent, which announced the walkout and criticized the company itself for the response to the suit. According to the statement from the employees, many believed their own values weren’t being reflected by the actions and the words of the company.

The goal of the walkout was to improve the overall working conditions for the employees at the video game studio, especially for women of color, transgender women, nonbinary people, and other marginalized groups.

Right after reports of the lawsuit surfaced with the public, the CEO of Activision Blizzard, Bobby Kotick released an apology for the company’s ignorant response to the problems inside the video game studio. As a response to the problems that the employees raised, Kotick apologized to everyone who had been mistreated as well as for the company not providing any understanding or empathy during those situations.

The company-wide walkout happened both in-person, which affected the Activision Blizzard offices in Irvine, as well as digitally with remote workers. The employees also created a hashtag on Twitter, where they shared support for the walkout.

A week earlier, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing ended up filing a lawsuit against the video game studio for fostering a toxic work environment. That environment included things like bigotry, sexual harassment, misogyny, and abusers freely avoiding all consequences to their actions.

In fact, the video game studio also had a so-called “Cosby Suite”, which was the office of the Senior Creative Director for one of Activision Blizzard’s most popular franchises: World of Warcraft. Furthermore, when the lawsuit first surfaced, the video game studio ended up removing its Senior Creative Director from his position, as well as strategically removing all references to him inside the games.

In the aftermath of the statement of intent by the employees at Activision Blizzard, over two thousand people ended up signing a petition which denounced the company’s terrible response to the entire lawsuit. The Director of Corporate Communications for Activision Blizzard ended up criticizing the lawsuit as well as the investigation, saying the claims were distorted and inaccurate. However, numerous employees disagreed with the statement, as evidenced in the employees’ response as well as the petition.

When situations like the aforementioned happen with companies, it’s best if the CEOs themselves release statements apologizing and detailing how their company is working towards fixing its mistakes. The reason behind the employees’ and the public’s backlash is because the first response to the lawsuit from the company was to deny anything happening, instead of apologizing and taking accountability, at the very least.

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Ronn Torossian
Ronn Torossian is the Founder and CEO of 5W Public Relations: 5WPR is one of the 20 largest PR Firms in the United States.

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