Controversial Executive Steps Down From Call Of Duty Publisher

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Frances Townsend defends torture on the CBS morning show in 2017.

Screenshot: CBS Viacom / Kotaku

In a past life, Frances Townsend defended the legal basis for the torture method called waterboarding during George W. Bush’s war on terror. In a more recent one, she helped lead Activision Blizzard’s initially tone-deaf response to a major sexual harassment lawsuit by the state of California. Now she’s stepping down as the Call of Duty publisher’s chief compliance officer after less than two years in the position.

CEO Bobby Kotick announced the move to staff in an email on Thursday, The Wall Street Journal reports. Despite stepping down from the position, Townsend will still remain an official advisor to Kotick and to Activision Blizzard’s Board of Directors, over which Kotick presides. This shift in the company’s governing structure comes as Microsoft tries to convince regulators to let it buy the publisher of Overwatch 2 and Diablo IV for $69 billion by June 2023.

“She tirelessly and successfully navigated a challenging time for the Company with leadership, conviction, and grace,” Kotick wrote in the email, according to The Wall Street Journal. (Last November, over 1,000 employees signed a letter calling on him to resign.)

Others might disagree. Brought on board to help Activision Blizzard navigate complex global regulations, the former Bush adviser ended up being one of the faces of the company’s reckoning with allegations of sexual discrimination and harassment. Townsend became the messenger for the company’s extremely harsh rebuttal to a California lawsuit alleging pay discrimination, a “frat boy” workplace culture, and other issues.

“A recently filed lawsuit presented a distorted and untrue picture of our company, including factually incorrect, old and out of context stories—some from more than a decade ago,” read an email from her work account largely defending the company and denying any legitimacy to the claims. It provoked a walkout from hundreds of employees across Activision Blizzard the following week, and Townsend even started blocking some of them on Twitter after they criticized her for tweeting an anti-whistleblower article from The Atlantic. Eventually, she nuked her Twitter account entirely. However, The Wall Street Journal later reported that the original email from Townsend’s account waiving off the California lawsuit was actually drafted by Kotick.

Activision Blizzard later changed its tune, announcing a number of new policies to try and address workplace issues and an $18 million settlement with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The ABK Worker Alliance group that grew out of the original allegations continues to press for more reforms and say in how the policies are developed and implemented.

Townsend could not immediately be reached, and Activision Blizzard did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Update: 9/30/22 10:30 p.m. ET: Activision Blizzard spokesperson Rich George provided Kotaku with a copy of Kotick’s email to staff regarding Townsend’s departure, but declined to comment further:

Team,

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 Counselto 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.

Fran also has done an extraordinary job enhancing the strong governance and compliance programs we have throughout the Company. One of Fran’s most important contributions has been empowering and developing talent, and we are pleased to announce that her deputies Jen Brewer and Luci Altman will both be promoted effective October 1.

Jen Brewer, just celebrated her tenth year with the company, currently as Senior Vice President of Ethics and Compliance. Jen will be promoted to Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer. Jen has more than twenty years of legal and compliance experience. She has long been a key advisor to our senior leadership team, and this well-earned promotion recognizes her exceptional abilities and dedication to making Activision Blizzard the very best place to work. Jen will report to Chief Administrative Officer Brian Bulatao while continuing to work closely with me, Fran, Grant and directly with the Board’s Audit and Workplace Responsibility Committees.

Fran and Jen have been committed to retaining and attracting talent to our world class compliance team, with a diverse roster of top performers from organizations with leading compliance programs like Disney, Boeing, KPMG, Walmart, the US Navy, and some of the world’s best law firms.

Over the ten years Jen has been a leader in compliance at the Company she has overseen and created innovative compliance and reporting programs including our unique Way2Play Heroes program.

Leading our Way2Play team, Jen worked for years with grit and determination to create our one of a kind Way2Play Heroes initiative which has grown from 75 Heroes to today, with over 140 Heroes ensuring best practices in compliance across the entire company.

Jen remains passionate about maintaining the most welcoming inclusive workplace and ensuring continued investment and innovative programs so we remain an example for other companies in our industry.

Luci Altman, currently Senior Vice President of Senior Securities & Corporate Governance, will be promoted to Corporate Secretary. Luci joined us last year after more than thirty years of legal experience in private practice and top corporations, and she has been instrumental in our maintaining the highest standards of corporate governance. Building relationships with teams across the world takes time and Luci has built strong, trusting relationships across the company during the pandemic, no easy task. Luci continues to play a pivotal role in the completion of our merger with Microsoft. While much of Luci’s work is behind the scenes, we know she has played a starring role in ensuring we have the very best governance practices. She participated in the creation of our 2021 ESG report highlighting our achievements in our efforts to improve the environment through key initiatives like reducing the use of plastic packaging and our social and governance programs which are considered best in class by independent reviewers. She will continue to ensure we maintain our commitment to excellence in all of our ESG initiatives. Luci will now report to our General Counsel, Grant Dixton.

We will continue to demonstrate our commitment ensuring our governance and compliance programs are the model for our industry, and these personnel changes will help us maintain our momentum in that regard.

We’re fortunate to have world-class professionals like Fran, Jen, and Luci on our team – and I couldn’t be more grateful for the tireless work they do.

Thank you all for the shared commitment to the very best workplace, your passion and unwavering commitment to improvement which is how we will continue to make the world’s best games.

With appreciation,

Bobby

       





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