Former Activision exec sues Call of Duty publisher for discrimination against “old white guys”

An unnamed former Activision executive is taking the Call of Duty publisher to court in California, accusing the company of age discrimination and violating the stat’s whistleblower protection law. Said executive is a 57-year-old who worked at the company from 2014; apparently, he and six other men aged 47 or older were cut from a team of 200, as part of broader Activision Blizzard restructuring efforts last August.

As reported by law360, the lawsuit cites statements allegedly made by recently-departed Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick to the effect that “there are too many old white guys” at the company, and claims that two white executives left the company shortly afterwards “based, at least in part, on Kotick’s ageist remarks”.

According to the suit, one of the above departing execs recommended the plaintiff as his replacement, but Activision Blizzard promoted a younger non-white employee instead, who became the plaintiff’s manager. The manager in question is said to have criticised the plaintiff’s work in such a way that his merit-based base salary increase for that year was the lowest he received during his tenure at the company.

Ed recounts his favourite thing from Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’s campaign.Watch on YouTube

The suit also claims that a woman in the plaintiff’s department made false and defamatory remarks about him to human resources and his manager, while complaining about her own merit-based salary increase being lower than expected. The plaintiff filed his own complaint with HR in response, accusing Activision Blizzard of failing to protect him from “discriminatory and defamatory accusations” and calling for “checks and balances” while insisting “that a larger issue might be brewing”. He says this complaint was ignored.

In summary, the plaintiff is asking for damages to make up for loss of earnings, negative impact to career advancement, damage to his reputation, emotional distress and wrongful termination, as well as legal costs.

On paper, much of this has me grasping for the smallest of violins. Whatever Kotick has said or not said, it doesn’t feel like white guys are an especially endangered species at Activision, or indeed anywhere else. According to the company’s most recent
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Look-Back report, 73% of the company’s workforce were male as of 2022, and 61% of their US workforce were white. If there’s a broader campaign against white guys at the House of COD, they’re keeping it fairly quiet.

I feel more sympathetic about the accusations of ageism, which is a problem that affects a variety of industries in complex ways. In a video last year, one of Fallout’s original designers Timothy Cain called it “the last publicly acceptable discrimination” in game development (if you like that video, Jeremy Peel also interviewed Cain about his Fallout and Outer Worlds days a little while ago). According to a CompTIA survey from 2023, only 17 per cent of tech workers and 14% of software developers and engineers in the USA are over 55. In 2019, the videogame union worker Kate Edwards launched a “50 over 50” initiative to address a purported industry-wide bias toward younger hires.

Activision themselves have yet to say much about the above ageism lawsuit beyond referring GamesIndustry.biz to their equal employment opportunity policy. In possibly relevant news, the company recently settled a lawsuit brought by the State of California over an alleged “frat boy” culture of sexual harassment, discrimination and unequal pay.

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