As reported by the Wall Street Journal (opens in new tab), Activision Blizzard chief compliance officer Frances Townsend has stepped down from her position. While no longer an employee of the company, she will continue to serve its board as an advisor.
The move comes as Microsoft’s $68.7 billion acquisition of the company slowly works its way to completion, though not without regulatory hurdles like a recent challenge from a UK watchdog (opens in new tab).
Townsend was a controversial figure before joining Activision Blizzard. In the early 2000s, during the invasion of Iraq, she held the position of Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism under George W. Bush.
The Washington Post (opens in new tab) reported in 2004 that Townsend toured the infamous Abu Ghraib prison during the height of the US military’s torturing of prisoners at the facility (opens in new tab). According to the Post, an officer at the prison told US Army investigators that Townsend pressured him to extract more and better information from prisoners in his capacity as head of the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center at Abu Ghraib. Townsend, for her part, denied witnessing abuse of prisoners during her tour.
In July of 2021 close to the outbreak of the Activision Blizzard controversy (opens in new tab), Townsend emailed employees (opens in new tab) regarding the allegations against the company. She claimed the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing lawsuit “presented a distorted and untrue picture of [Activision Blizzard], including factually incorrect, old, and out of context stories—some from more than a decade ago.”
Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick subsequently assumed responsibility for the content of the offending email. Townsend, however, stepped down from a position sponsoring a women’s network at the company, and later deleted her Twitter (opens in new tab) after sparking controversy by sharing an article critical of whistleblowers.
According to Bloomberg (opens in new tab), Bobby Kotick wrote in an email that Townsend “did a truly exceptional job” during her tenure. The WSJ reports that Townsend’s former duties as ethics and compliance officer and corporate secretary are being assumed by her deputies Jen Brewer and Luci Altman respectively.