Activision exec called sexism lawsuit 'meritless' drops out of executive role

Activision Blizzard’s executive vice president for corporate affairs, Fran Townsend, is leaving her executive role at the company, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick announced Thursday in an email to staff. A Wall Street Journal report published Friday first reported the news.

Townsend, who is a former homeland security advisor under President George W. Bush, is not moving far away from Activision Blizzard; she’ll now act as “senior counsel” to Kotick and Activision Blizzard’s board of directors, according to an email from Kotick obtained by Kotaku. Two other executives, Jen Brewer and Luci Altman, will also move into new roles — chief ethics and compliance officer and corporate secretary, respectively.

Activision Blizzard has not responded to Polygon’s request for comment. Townsend’s departure comes more than a year after the executive was criticized for downplaying abuses reported in Activision Blizzard’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) lawsuit, which alleged rampant sexism and gender-based discrimination at the company.

Several top executives, including former Blizzard president J. Allen Brack, were named in the lawsuit for their awareness and lack of action against the alleged behavior. The DFEH said it conducted a two-year investigation into Activision Blizzard before filing the suit.

Workers were also critical of Townsend retweeting The Atlantic’s “The Problem With the Whistle-Blower System,” just as many employees at the company were speaking out their struggles at the company and with its culture. Townsend later deleted her Twitter account.

After the lawsuit was made public, Activision Blizzard released an official statement in which it said the lawsuit included “distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past.” Townsend herself called the lawsuit “truly meritless and irresponsible” in a statement that’s since been widely criticized by current and former staff.

More than a year has passed since the initial DFEH lawsuit was filed. Several more lawsuits came after that, including one from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that was settled for $18 million last year, as well as a wrongful death suit that was later dropped.