Former Activision Blizzard executive's lawsuit claims he was fired for being an 'old white man'

A former Activision Blizzard executive is suing the company for age discrimination, according to the lawsuit filed on January 2. James Reid Venable, a 57-year-old former senior director of corporate operations, said Activision Blizzard “retaliated against and discriminated” against him after he filed a discrimination complaint with the company's human resources department. Venable thinks he was fired because he was old and white.

The complaint 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 to a “high performance 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 managers, in their 50s, left the company “at least in part” because of Kotick's statement, 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 the central technology division. “Plaintiff is aware, believes and alleges herein that the decision to promote the substantially younger, less experienced employee over Plaintiff was based on the campaign to get rid of 'old white boys' within Activision,” the lawsuit states.

According to the complaint, Venable received a poor performance rating and the lowest earnings increase in his Activision Blizzard career under Lee's leadership. He also says he was given fewer stock options than younger, non-white employees. Later, a female employee in Venable's department commented on his “white male privilege” in an email to his boss and human resources. 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 this was in retaliation for his HR complaint. Venable was fired on Aug. 21 during a corporate restructuring, along with seven other “older, male employees” ranging in age from 47 to 64, the lawsuit said. Venable says Activision Blizzard's stated reason for the layoffs – “job cuts and restructuring needs” – was untrue, citing vacancies for the department.

A representative for Activision Blizzard declined to comment. Polygon has reached out to Venable's attorney for additional comment.

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

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

Kotick has been a controversial figure for some time, especially for his response to the California CRD discrimination lawsuit. Hundreds of employees left their jobs that year to demand his resignation after a Wall Street Journal report questioned Kotick's knowledge of the alleged misconduct. (In the settlement agreement, the CRD noted that these 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 policy from the company for collecting, analyzing and disclosing allegations of sexual harassment and workplace misconduct – the second of three discrimination settlements.