Activision Blizzard settles SEC charges for $35 million

Government regulators announced Friday that videogame maker Activision Blizzard has agreed to pay $35 million to settle charges that it failed to maintain controls to collect and assess workplace complaints with regard to disclosure requirements and violated a federal whistleblower protection rule.

The lack of necessary controls left Activision "without the means to determine whether larger issues existed that needed to be disclosed to investors,” said Jason Burt, director of the SEC’s Denver office. “Moreover, taking action to impede former employees from communicating directly with the Commission staff about a possible securities law violation is not only bad corporate governance, it is illegal.”

In paying the settlement, Activision neither admitted nor denied the SEC's findings and agreed to a cease-and-desist order, the agency said.

Friday's settlement comes after the troubled Santa Monica, California-based gaming company settled with U.S. workplace regulators in 2021 over employee complaints about sexual harassment. Workers then also accused the company of discriminating against employees who were pregnant and retaliating against employees who spoke out, including firing them.

In that settlement, the maker of Candy Crush, Call of Duty, Overwatch and World of Warcraft agreed to create an $18 million fund to compensate people who were harassed or discriminated against. Money left over would go to charities for women in the video game industry or other gender equity measures. Activision also agreed to strengthen its policies and training on harassment and discrimination and hire an independent consultant to oversee its compliance with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's conditions.

One month before that, in August of 2021, the company announced that its president, J. Allen Brack, was stepping down after the company was hit with a discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuit in California. California’s civil rights agency sued the Santa Monica-based company in July of 2021, citing a “frat boy” culture that had become a “breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women.”

Activision shares fell close to 2%, to $75.60 in afternoon trading on Friday. Shares hovered near $100 in the weeks leading up to the flurry of workplace misconduct charges in the summer of 2021.

Just over a year ago, Microsoft said it was paying a hefty $68.7 billion for Activision, but the deal is being held up by regulators in the U.S. and Europe over anti-competitive concerns.