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Ex-Activision Blizzard exec’s lawsuit alleges he was laid off for being an ‘old white guy’

‘There are too many old white guys,’ Bobby Kotick said

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A photograph of a simple white sign outside the Activision office Photo: Eric Thayer/Bloomberg via 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.

A former Activision Blizzard executive is suing the company for age discrimination, according to lawsuit filed on Jan. 2. James Reid Venable, a 57-year-old former senior director of business operations, said Activision Blizzard “retaliated and discriminated” against him after he made a discrimination complaint to the company’s human resources department — specifically, Venable believes he was laid off for being old and white.

The complaint, which was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court and first reported by Law360, outlines Venable’s tenure at Activision Blizzard. He said he was hired in 2014 and promoted several times as a “high performing executive,” to the point where he led the operations team. Venable accused former CEO Bobby Kotick of saying at a leadership conference that the company’s problem was that it had “too many old white guys.” Two older white executives, in their 50s, left the company “at least in part” because of the statement from Kotick, which the complaint describes as “ageist.”

Activision Blizzard then promoted a younger “non-white employee,” Jonathan Lee, who is currently the chief operating officer of its central technology division. “Plaintiff is informed and believes and herein alleges that the decision to promote the substantially younger, less experienced employee over Plaintiff was based on the campaign to get rid of ‘old white guys’ within Activision,” the lawsuit says.

Under Lee’s management, Venable received a poor performance review and the lowest merit increase in his Activision Blizzard career, according to the complaint. He also says that he was given fewer stock options than younger, nonwhite employees. Later, a female employee in Venable’s department made a comment on his “white male privilege” in an email to his boss and the human resources department. Venable complained to HR about the comments and the company’s alleged “failure to protect” him from discrimination. Months later, he was fired — and Venable believes that it was in retaliation for his HR complaint. Venable was let go on Aug. 21 during a company restructuring, alongside seven other “older, male employees” ranging in age from 47 to 64, according to the lawsuit. Venable says that Activision Blizzard’s stated reason for the layoffs — “job elimination and restructuring needs” — was untrue, and points to job postings for the department.

An Activision Blizzard representative declined to comment. Polygon has reached out to Venable’s lawyer for additional comment.

Kotick, whose reported comments are at the center of this lawsuit, is no longer Activision Blizzard’s CEO; he resigned on Dec. 29 (alongside several other Activision Blizzard executives) following Microsoft’s completed acquisition of the video game company. Xbox Game Studios chief Matt Booty is now in charge of Activision Blizzard’s leadership team.

This isn’t the first time the company has been sued for discrimination. Activision Blizzard settled its California Civil Rights Department gender discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuit the month prior to Venable’s action. The company will pay $55 million in damages, the majority of which will go to its current and former female employees. Activision Blizzard settled a similar discrimination lawsuit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in September 2021, where it agreed to pay $18 million.

Kotick has been a contentious figure for some time, specifically due in part to his response to the California CRD’s discrimination lawsuit. Hundreds of employees walked out of work that year to call for his resignation after a Wall Street Journal report called Kotick’s knowledge of the alleged misconduct into question. (In its settlement agreement, the CRD noted that those claims against Kotick and other Activision Blizzard executives were never substantiated.) Activision Blizzard paid a $35 million fine to settle a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission lawsuit over the company’s policies for collecting, analyzing, and disclosing sexual harassment and workplace misconduct charges — the second of the three settlements related to discrimination.

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