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Activision exec that called sexism lawsuit ‘meritless’ exits executive role

Fran Townsend will still act as senior counsel to CEO Bobby Kotick

Frances ‘Fran’ Townsend, former Homeland Security Advisor to President George W. Bush, exits Trump Tower, in New York City. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

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.

Reached for comment, an Activision Blizzard representative pointed Polygon to the email Kotick sent to staff Thursday. In it, Kotick announced the departure, alongside new executive promotions. The company representative did not comment further.

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. Thousands of Activision Blizzard employees signed a letter asking that Townsend step down as the executive sponsor of the women’s network. Following the letter, Activision Blizzard employees in California and elsewhere walked out of work in protest of leadership response.

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.

Amid Activision Blizzard’s corporate restructuring, the company is looking to government regulators to approve Microsoft’s $68.7 billion deal to acquire the Call of Duty and Overwatch publisher.

Update (Oct. 4): Following publication, Activision Blizzard provided Polygon with the full email CEO Bobby Kotick sent to staff Thursday. In it, Kotick announced the departure, alongside new executive promotions.

As we continue to move closer to the completion of our merger with Microsoft, I want to share some important updates we are making to further our continuing commitment to excellence in our workplace, compliance, and governance.

Effective October 1, Fran Townsend will be moving to a new role as Senior Counsel to me and the Board of Directors. In her current role as EVP of Corporate Affairs, Chief Compliance Officer and Corporate Secretary, Fran did a truly exceptional job—actually four jobs— with continuously increasing responsibilities and the most exemplary work ethic. She tirelessly and successfully navigated a challenging time for the Company with leadership, conviction, and grace.