A recent article by the Washington Post goes into great detail about how Bobby Kotick’s history of litigation stretches all the way back to the beginning of his career.
Before Activision, Call of Duty, and the recent controversies surrounding Activision Blizzard’s workplace culture, Kotick’s first company, Arktronics, sought to produce a tool to make using the Apple II computer easier for the non tech-savvy. Kotick and his business partners asked their employees to forgo portions of their salaries in exchange for stock options, with those options as well as the company’s work as a whole ultimately being rendered worthless by later developments in Apple products.
Arktronics employees sued Kotick for being cheated out of their wages in 1985. Arktronics and the employees eventually settled, but Kotick and Arktronics delayed payment for years, with some former employees alleging they never received their portion of the settlement.
This anecdote was the first in a series of similar stories featured in the Washington Post report going over Kotick’s fraught legal battles with multiple contractors who worked on his home in Beverly Hills, former employees, and even the band No Doubt, who sued over their likeness being used in 2009’s Band Hero. Kotick emailed one of the band’s lawyers, who had represented him in the past, to say: “Do you understand that this will prevent you from ever doing any business with Activision, Universal Music or ANY Vivendi company anywhere in the world?”
One particularly egregious incident related to a former flight attendant on Kotick’s private jet. Her suit against the executive alleged that he fired her for complaining about sexual harassment from another worker on the job, and in the ensuing case, Kotick’s lawyers engaged in brutal, even cruel tactics against the plaintiff, including:
“After the flight attendant mentioned during a deposition that she had an abortion, Kotick’s attorneys argued in court filings that her ex-boyfriend should have to answer questions about it during a deposition, and also that they should be able to introduce evidence of the abortion at trial. The procedure may have ‘distracted [her] from properly performing her job duties’ or caused the ’emotional distress’ she was now blaming on her firing, Kotick’s lawyer argued in a legal filing.”
Despite his well-documented legal issues, Kotick has enjoyed a very long and successful run at the top of Activision Blizzard. Even though the Microsoft acquisition is effectively a concession to his failure to provide a safe work environment at his company, and the damage that’s done to his reputation, the company board has continued to publicly stand by him. The Washington Post story is full of anecdotes that make it clear how profitable—and forceful—his tactics were over three decades at Activision.
A former associate of Kotick’s claimed he was fond of the saying, “The one who has the most things when they die, wins.” Kotick’s spokesperson told The Washington Post that that line was a saying from a mutual friend’s sweatshirt, and that “Bobby denies he believed it then or now.”
Kotick is expected to leave Activision-Blizzard next year, after the Microsoft acquisition is complete, with company stock currently valued around $400 million.