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Riot Games settles gender discrimination class action lawsuit

Sam Desatoff

Riot Games settles gender discrimination class action lawsuit

The embattled League of Legends developer has spent the past year battling allegations of sexism and harassment.

Sam Desatoff,Fri, 23 Aug 2019 19:33:00

Riot Games has agreed to settle a class action lawsuit filed in November that alleged the company allowed gender-based discrimination and nurtured a workplace that was toxic for women. 

“We made a commitment to Rioters that we would be willing to take the steps necessary to build trust and to demonstrate that we’re serious about Riot evolving into an excellent place to work for all Rioters,” the company said in a statement. “Under these circumstances, we’ve had to look critically at our litigation approach to the class action lawsuit. While we believed that we had a strong position to litigate, we realized that in the long run, doing what is best for both Riot and Rioters was our ideal outcome.”

It’s the latest chapter in a saga that began one year ago this month when Kotaku’s Cecilia D'Anastasio unearthed an environment characterized by sexual harassment and bullying. Since then, the studio behind League of Legends has been in damage control mode, fending off one controversy after another. 

“[We]have been working on many fronts to review and address the lawsuits and the concerns that were raised,” the statement reads. “We’ve done a deep dive into our past, our culture, and our systems and processes. Last August, we announced our First Steps Forward, and those steps continue today. We will continue to strive to be a great company and one that cares about its employees and its players.”

Following Kotaku’s initial report, the company hosted a session at PAX West 2018 that was meant to help women and non-binary people enter the games industry. The session resulted in two prominent and outspoken Riot employees leaving under hazy circumstances. In February, Riot hired a chief diversity officer in an attempt to “make Riot the most inclusive company in gaming,” according to an announcement. 

In May, Riot took efforts to force the plaintiffs of November’s lawsuits into private arbitration, a decision that’s in accordance to a clause present in employees’ onboarding paperwork.

“As soon as current litigation is resolved, we will give all new Rioters the choice to opt-out of mandatory arbitration for individual sexual harassment and sexual assault claims,” Riot said in a statement. “At that time, we will also commit to have a firm answer around expanding the scope and extending this opt-out to all Rioters.”

The move was an attempt to head off a potential walkout, but ultimately failed; on May 6th, over 150 Riot employees protested the company’s toxic environment and private arbitration practices.

In June, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing asked Riot to disclose its pay data so that it might investigate any pay gaps that might speak to a discriminatory workplace. The DFEH claimed that Riot “has refused to provide the Department with adequate information for DFEH to analyze whether women are paid less than men at the company. DFEH seeks the information as part of an investigation into alleged unequal pay, sexual harassment, sexual assault, retaliation, and gender discrimination in selection and promotion.”

Riot, of course, claimed that it’s been cooperative with the department from the start. “We’ve been in active conversations with the DFEH since its inquiry began,” a Riot spokesperson said at the time. “Investigations like this can arise when there have been allegations of workplace disparity and we’ve been cooperating in good faith with the DFEH to address its concerns. During this time, we’ve promptly responded to the DFEH’s requests, and have produced over 2,500 pages of documents and several thousand lines of pay data so far.”

Earlier this month, on the one-year anniversary of Kotaku’s initial story, D'Anastasio followed up with Riot employees to see how much progress has been made regarding the studio’s efforts to combat toxicity and inequality. What she found is a company that has made real progress toward addressing sexism. 

The fact that Riot has chosen to settle the class action lawsuits seems to speak to the company’s claims of righting the ship. 

"This is a very strong settlement agreement that provides meaningful and fair value to class members for their experiences at Riot Games," said Ryan Saba, the attorney representing the plaintiffs. "This is a clear indication that Riot is dedicated to making progress in evolving its culture and employment practices. A number of significant changes to the corporate culture have been made, including increased transparency and industry-leading diversity and inclusion programs. The many Riot employees who spoke up, including the plaintiffs, significantly helped to change the culture at Riot."

Going forward, hopefully Riot can prove its commitment to a more accepting workplace. It’s one thing to claim change, but acting on it is another thing entirely. Riot will remain under the microscope of public scrutiny, and, if the past year is any indication, the employees at the studio will certainly hold the executives to their word.