‘Too many old white guys’ | Former employee sues Activision Blizzard for age discrimination

Former employee sues Activision Blizzard for age discrimination

A former Activision Blizzard tech executive, 57, has sued the video game company on the grounds of age discrimination and violating whistleblower protection laws.

The ex-employee accused Activision Blizzard of discriminating against him based on age, suing the company in the state of California.

The executive worked for the company from 2014 until August 2023, when he was laid off following restructuring in the Central Tech department. According to the suit, 200 employees were made redundant during this restructuring. Seven of these employees, including the executive, were men aged 47 or over.

The lawsuit alleges several instances of discrimination, including against former CEO Bobby Kotick, who stepped down from his role on 29 December 2023. This includes accusations that Kotick cited “too many old white guys” as the “problem” at Activision Blizzard, during a conference.

The suit goes on to claim that two white executives then departed Activision Blizzard based “at least in part, on Kotick’s ageist remarks,” one of whom recommended the ex-employee as his successor. Instead, Activision Blizzard appointed a younger, non-white employee who became his manager.

He levels several accusations against the manager including creating a hostile work environment and offering him the lowest merit-based salary increase in his tenure.

Did HR do enough?

The suit indicates this dispute has already played out in the HR department, without any resolution. The ex-employee also accuses the manager and lodging false complaints to HR.

In response, the ex-employee lodged a complaint with HR, citing “discriminatory and defamatory accusations,” asking for “checks and balances,” and suggesting that “a larger issue might be brewing.”

He claims he was “ignored and not taken seriously,” and goes on to suggest that Activision Blizzard “placed profits over people by terminating the older, higher paid executives.”

Alongside legal costs, loss of earnings, and negative impact to career advancement, the ex-employee is asking for compensation for wrongful termination, reputational damage, and emotional distress.

Activision Blizzard’s Equal Employment Opportunity Statement reads:

“It is the policy of Activision Blizzard to: 1. Recruit, hire, train and promote, into all job classifications, the most qualified persons without regard to gender, race… …, age or because of genetic information or any other basis protected by applicable federal, state, or local law.”

However, this is far from the first discrimination lawsuit to darken Activision Blizzard’s doors.

On 15 December 2023, the California Civil Rights Department (CRD) won a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard, resulting in a $54 million settlement. The lawsuit alleged a “frat boy” culture of sexual harassment where female employees were subject to sexual harassment and discrimination.

Kotick was suggested to have known of the sexual misconduct allegations for years, according to the Wall Street Journal. Employees walked out and signed open letters criticizing the response from company leadership. Leaders including President J. Allen Brack, Executive Frances Townsend, and SVP of HR Jesse Meschuk all left their roles at the video game company.

The news of the successful lawsuit came six weeks after Microsoft finalized a $68.7 billion deal to acquire Activision Blizzard on 29 October 2023.

America’s age discrimination problem

On 4 December 2024, Reuters reported that a group of bi-partisan US House members proposed to re-introduce a bill for the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act (POWADA), thereby making it easier to prove workplace age discrimination claims.

The group of lawmakers cite the 2009 Gross v. FBL Financial Services Inc case, in which Gross was required to prove that age was the primary motivating factor in their employment decision. This case reduced protection under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and arguably made bias cases more difficult to win than race, sex, or disability discrimination lawsuits.

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Representative Glenn Grothman said:

“In my mind, the one form of discrimination that is so widespread is age discrimination against older workers. This affects a whole generation of Americans. Countless people aged 50 and up get laid off at a time when they still have mortgages to pay and children to support, and they find it very difficult to find a job.”

Alongside Activision Blizzard, companies including X have also faced age discrimination suits in the past 12 months. In August 2023, Elon Musk’s social media platform, formerly Twitter, was accused of laying off employees over the age of 50 at a higher rate than other age groups.

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