Riot Games is the developer of the popular esports phenomenon League of Legends and have now produced a Netflix series based in this world called Esoteric. It is, in the opinion of all, a fun and well done show. Released on the day of the League of Legends World Championship final (surprise 3-2 victory for Chinese EDward Gaming), Esoteric generated a lot of good press for Riot – enough to make people forget that, over the past three years, Riot has been the subject of investigations and prosecutions due to a culture of sexual harassment and discrimination within work that seems to start at the top.
Here is a timeline of the various charges and lawsuits filed against Riot over the past three years.
In August 2018, Kotaku published a talk by Cecilia D’Anastasio on the culture of sexism at Riot which includes sexual harassment, discrimination in hiring and promotion based on gender, general toxicity around the idea of ââwhat makes a good “player” and therefore a good employee, and the use of inappropriate language in the workplace, including asking a potential hiring woman in an interview: “How big is your e-peen?” That same month, former Riot product manager Barry Hawkins wrote several blog posts about cultivating sexism and how talking about it made him feel compelled to leave the company. Some Riot developers took to Twitter to corroborate the report at Kotaku, as covered at Game developer (so Gamasutra) by Bryant Francis. This was followed by a statement from Riot at the end of the month saying they would strive to address cultural issues (without admitting a culture of sexism) by expanding their D&I initiative, “revisiting cultural definitions”, establishing a third party evaluation. , and “evaluate and improve [their] survey processes and systems.
In September 2018, Frances Frei, who was hired by Uber to correct their corporate culture, was hired by Riot to correct their corporate culture. Judging from the following, she was not quite successful.
In November 2018, a class action lawsuit was filed against the company by current and former employees, Melanie McCracken and Jessica Negron, respectively, for sexual harassment at work and gender discrimination. Their claims included that Riot paid women less than men in the same jobs, assigned women to lower-paying jobs in general, promoted men of similar or lower-skilled qualifications to positions for which women were ignored, and was responsible. to âcreate, encourage and maintain a work environment that exposes its employees to discrimination, harassment and reprisals on the basis of their gender or sex.
In December 2018, Kotaku reported that COO Scott Gelb was placed on unpaid leave of absence after alleged unprofessional, harassing and abusive behavior, including groping employees and having them ” farted in the face “.
In January 2019, Haydn Taylor wrote for GamesIndustry.biz that Riot updated their corporate values ââpage to aspire to move away from the previous toxic ‘brother culture’ and hired Chief Diversity Angela Roseboro. in February. Obviously, that hasn’t solved all of their internal cultural issues as, in June 2019, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing was revealed to be investigating Riot for gender discrimination.
Riot agreed in principle to settle the November 2018 trial in August 2019, offering in a statement:
After careful consideration of these issues, we can confidently say that gender discrimination (in pay or promotion), sexual harassment, and retaliation are not systemic issues at Riot. But, what we also learned during this process is that some Rioters have had experiences that did not live up to our values ââor culture. Additionally, we encountered considerable fatigue among the rioters, who were exhausted by a constant engagement in internal and external dialogues emerging from these recurring media chases and cycles.
So, according to Riot, although more than 100 women have been paid due to sexual harassment and gender discrimination in assignment, delegation of duties and promotions, there is no systemic problem.
However, in February 2020, the original $ 10 million petition was withdrawn and the plaintiffs’ legal counsel, Rosen & Saba, was replaced by women’s rights lawyer Genie Harrison, as the DFEH and the California Division of Labor and Standards Enforcement (DLSE) suggested that Riot had come to an agreement with Rosen & Saba and, according to Sam Dean of the Los Angeles Times, that plaintiffs could be entitled to a settlement closer to $ 400 million, with the DLSE filing a claim. request to intervene in the case in December 2019.
In January 2021, Riot and CEO Nicolo Laurent were sued by former executive assistant Shannon O’Donnell, who alleges Laurent sexually harassed her and then fired her for refusing his sexual advances. In May, the Washington post reported that Riot Games had retained the law firm of Seyfarth Shaw LLP to investigate themselves and found nothing abnormal. Riot went on to accuse O’Donnell of attempting to bribe witnesses and “encouraged individuals to take legal action against Mr. Laurent and / or join his own so that they could personally benefit, though. that the individuals declared that they had no claim against Mr. Laurent. âIt looks like Riot is trying to deter further legal action.
In August, the California Department of Employment and Housing asked the Los Angeles Superior Court to compel Riot to comply with the June 4 court order ordering the company to notify its employees of their right to speak with the government about any sexual harassment or other abuse they may have suffered. fell prey while working at Riot:
In 2019, more than a year after the government launched a company-wide investigation into sexual harassment, gender discrimination and sexual assault at the Riot Games, the company announced that it had concluded secret settlement deals with around 100 women who renounced their claims and rights, without warning of government actions. For the next 18 months, the DFEH searched for the secret settlement agreements. The court ordered Riot to produce them to the government in January 2021; However, Riot delayed production until April 2021. Alarmed by the wording of Riot’s settlement and separation agreements which suggested that employees could not voluntarily and frankly speak with the government about sexual harassment and other violations, and obtain relief from government actions, DFEH promptly requested relief from the court. The Court ordered Riot to issue the corrective opinion; However, Riot delayed the process for two months.
The court-ordered notice informs workers that they “can freely cooperate, participate and obtain potential redress, if granted,” in DFEH’s pending action, and that “Riot Games cannot exercise retaliate or take adverse action against [them] for speaking with DFEH, participating in an ongoing DFEH action or obtaining potential redress in such action. In addition, âRiot Games cannot require [any worker] either notify the company or obtain authorization
before speaking with DFEH â, and thatâ[i]t is illegal for [any] the employer to retaliate against [workers] for speaking to the government or for participating or cooperating voluntarily in government proceedings.
According to the judicial records legal database UniCourt, at the time of this writing, McCracken, et al. The case against Riot Games is still on appeal in California’s Second Appeals District, while Sharon O’Donnell against Riot Games is still pending in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Overall, this paints a very bad image of Riot. A toxic and sexist culture has been allowed to ferment and fester, the internal and legal challenges to this culture have not been addressed in good faith, and three years after a statement claiming that internal reviews were underway to correct this culture, the company continues to face lawsuits. If these accusations are true, Riot Games has a lot of cleaning up to do and needs to do better with its workforce. As a leader in video games in general and esports in particular, they help set a cultural standard. This standard should be much higher. And no TV show, no matter how good, should distract from the scandals surrounding the company.