In one public statement to employees Earlier this week, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick said the company was reviewing policies and procedures to help promote a more respectful and inclusive workplace. To achieve this, the company retained the services of the prestigious law firm WilmerHale, which is the same law firm help Amazon prevent its workers from organizing. Considering the ongoing efforts to organize gaming workers, the partnership is a bit of a concern.
In an industry constantly under fire for discriminatory practices, sexual harassment, grueling crisis conditions and frequent mass layoffs, unionization is a hot topic. As the California State Lawsuit Against Activision Blizzard As can be seen, video game companies have a well-deserved reputation for creating work environments that are at best uncomfortable, at worst downright hostile. This is exactly why the game workers union movement has gained ground in recent years.
So when Activision Blizzard, a company currently criticized for its discriminatory practices and rampant sexual harassment issues, hires WilmerHale, a law firm known for its anti-union practices, heads turn and frowns frown.
WilmerHale is one of the country’s most prestigious law firms. It’s actually a combination of two law firms. There is Hale and Dorr in Boston, founded in 1918, known for volunteering for the U.S. Army in the Army-McCarthy Hearings in the 1950s as well as President Richard Nixon in the 1974 United States v. Nixon. Then there’s Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, founded in DC in 1962. Founding partner Lloyd Cutlet served as an advisor to Presidents Jimmy Carter and William Clinton, and founded the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy. The two historic companies combined to form Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, known as WilmerHale, in 2004. The combined entity is headquartered in DC and Boston, with offices in the United States, Europe and in Asia.
Basically WilmerHale is a big, powerful law firm that takes on big, powerful clients. Lawyers for the combined firm were on special investigative committees hired to examine the finances of Enron and Worldcom. Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering represented Swiss banks accused of profiting from the Holocaust as well as German companies accused of exploiting forced labor during the Nazi era.
WilmerHale also has a reputation for attracting attorneys who care about public service, especially US government service. Partner Stephanie Avakian, who leads Activision Blizzard’s policy review process, served as chief enforcement officer of the Securities and Exchange Commission during the Trump administration. Jamie Gorelick, Deputy Attorney General of the United States under the Clinton administration, has been a partner of WilmerHale since 2003 and a member of the Amazon board since 2012.
It is the association of Gorelick with Amazon as well as that of WilmerHale anti-union services advertised, which give the company its anti-union reputation. Earlier this year, Amazon workers in Alabama voted against unionization following a campaign by the company that included lengthy “briefings” disseminating anti-union rhetoric and signs with the slogan “Do it without dues”, suggesting that the proposed union was only interested ” collect workers’ contributions without offering substantial support.
The partnership also comes at a time when Activision Blizzard employees, empowered by the very public lawsuit, have begun to speak out in droves about their company policies. Prior to Bobby Kotick’s announcement regarding the arrival of WilmerHale, thousands of employees signed a public letter condemning the company’s initial reaction to the allegations raised in the lawsuit. This was followed by Wednesday’s walkout, in which Activision Blizzard employees around the world were off work for several hours. Support for peaceful demonstration flocked from all corners of the gaming community. The big picture has sparked new conversations about the value and importance of organizing.
While Activision Blizzard’s association with WilmerHale involves human resources advice, the reputation of the law firm and the game publisher’s anti-union leanings are a disturbing combination. According to a report earlier this week of UppercutCrit, when the subject of unionization was brought up at a recent meeting repeatedly regarding the California lawsuit, Activision Blizzard executive Joshua Taub reportedly informed employees that “the best way to protect yourself is to contact your supervisors, your hotline and your channels ”. But as reports have shown, turning to things like HR does not always work for the employees concerned. This morning UppercutCrit reports that Activision canceled further meetings at all levels, once again suggesting that employees turn to internal resources to resolve their issues.
Responding to Kotaku‘s regarding the relationship between the games company and the law firm, a representative from Activision said, “WilmerHale has extensive experience helping organizations strengthen their work environment by making improvements to related policies and procedures. issues of discrimination, harassment and reprisals. The law firm has yet to respond to our request for comment.