Controversial executive quits Call Of Duty publisher

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 method of torture 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 is stepping down as Call of Duty publisher’s Chief Compliance Officer after less than two years in the role.

CEO Bobby Kotick announced the shift to staff in an email Thursday, The Wall Street Journal reports. Despite his resignation, Townsend will remain an official advisor to Kotick and the Activision Blizzard Board of Directors, chaired by Kotick. This change in the company’s governance structure comes as Microsoft tries to convince regulators to let it buy the publisher of Monitor 2 and Diablo IV for $69 billion by June 2023.

“She tirelessly and successfully navigated a difficult time for the company with leadership, conviction and grace,” Kotick wrote in the email, according to The Wall Street Journal. (Last November, more than 1,000 employees signed a letter asking him to resign.)

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

“A recently filed lawsuit presented a distorted and false picture of our company, including factually incorrect, old and out-of-context stories, some from more than a decade ago,” read an email of his work intends to largely defend the company and deny any legitimacy to the claims. This caused hundreds of Activision Blizzard employees to walk out the following week, and Townsend even started blocking some of them on Twitter after they slammed her for tweeting an anti-whistleblower post from Atlantic. Eventually, she completely destroyed her Twitter account. However, The Wall Street Journal later reported that the original email from Townsend’s account quashing the California lawsuit was actually written by Kotick.

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

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