Yesterday, one current and one former employee of Riot Games filed a class action lawsuit against the League of Legends publisher, accusing it of endemic gender-based discrimination and fostering a “men-first” environment. The lawsuit comes three months after a Kotaku investigation into the sexist culture at Riot Games.
The lawsuit alleges that, “like many of Riot Games’ female employees, Plaintiffs have been denied equal pay and found their careers stifled because they are women. Moreover, Plaintiffs have also seen their working conditions negatively impacted because of the ongoing sexual harassment, misconduct, and bias which predominate the sexually-hostile working environment of Riot Games.” Riot violated California’s Equal Pay Act and law against gender-based discrimination at the workplace, the complaint argues.
The plaintiffs are asking for compensation on unpaid wages, damages, and other penalties, with an exact amount to be determined at trial. They also ask the court to certify the suit as class action.
League of Legends’ “Pop/Stars” video (Image: Riot Games)
In August, Kotaku detailed Riot Games’ culture of sexism in an investigative report that cited experiences from 28 current and former employees, most of whom described Riot’s working environment as sexist. One of those sources, Jessica Negron, is one of the two plaintiffs in this lawsuit. Kotaku’s report revealed that Riot’s so-called “bro culture” inspires and, in some instances, rewards behaviour that disadvantages women. The 2,500-employee games company, which is 80% male, regularly turned down female applicants for not fitting the company’s image of “core gamers,” sources said. Women interviewed also said that Riot’s obsession with “culture fits” reinforced a culture that hired and promoted aggressive male personalities and disadvantaged and harmed female recruits and employees. When sources called out their colleagues’ sexist behaviour, many said, their complaints were brushed aside or used to thwart their careers.
After Kotaku’s report, Riot posted a blog post apologising to current and former employees and promising sweeping changes to the company culture. One month later, in September, Riot still employed several of the key alleged perpetrators of abusive behaviour, including COO Scott Gelb, who was said to have grabbed colleagues’ genitals, another man who allegedly stifled several women’s careers and verbally harassed them, and one other who was said to have had a history of making sexually charged comments or advances toward unwilling female employees. (Gelb did not respond to a request for comment last month.) Riot also brought on Seyfarth Shaw, a law firm that, in the past, was known for its history busting unions.
Riot has, however, purged many of the people who were accused of facilitating a toxic culture, several current and former employees have told Kotaku.
The plaintiffs bringing yesterday’s complaint against Riot say they want to stop Riot’s alleged practice of paying men more than women who are fulfilling the same job role, promoting men into more superior roles more frequently than women, and demoting women who had similar qualifications as well-compensated men. The lawsuit complaint also says it wants to prevent Riot from “creating, encouraging, and maintaining a work environment that exposes its female employees to discrimination, harassment, and retaliation on the basis of their gender or sex.” Riot did not immediately respond to Kotaku’s request for comment about the lawsuit.
League of Legends’ “Pop/Stars” video (Image: Riot Games)
Negron says in the lawsuit (and has told Kotaku) that soon after she was hired, her manager quit and she took on her job duties without adequate compensation or a change in job title. Although she asked her superiors about making her title official, she was never interviewed for the position and, instead, three men were hired into the role one after another. Later, after her third supervisor left, the lawsuit says Negron was offered to perform the role again, still without proper compensation or a job title change.
The lawsuit includes details previously unknown to Kotaku as well, like Negron’s claim that in just one month, she counted that her male colleagues at Riot used the word “dick” over 500 times. The lawsuit also says Negron’s third supervisor had told her that “diversity should not be a focal point of the design of Riot Games’ products because gaming culture is the last remaining safe haven for white teen boys.”
Riot Games’ Los Angeles campus (Photo: Riot Games)
Current Riot employee Melanie McCracken, who is the second plaintiff in the lawsuit, says she has been working at Riot since 2013 and observed “discrimination based on her sex/gender.” She believes she was denied promotions, punished by male leadership and refused proper compensation as part of a trend in discrimination against women. Her initial supervisor, the lawsuit says, “did not hire females to fill vacancies in senior employment positions.” The complaint says he told McCracken that he would “feel weird having a male” as an assistant. She told her supervisor she wanted a more senior role, which he apparently responded to negatively. When McCracken complained to HR about his response and gender-based discrimination at Riot, the complaint says that HR failed to keep the meeting confidential and leaked the information to her supervisor.
McCracken took a new position in 2015 as an office manager in the North America region. Her former supervisor, the complaint said, was promoted in a senior position there in 2016. Then, the complaint says, she was apparently “given a five-month countdown to find a new position or ‘be fired.’”
In 2017, McCracken took on yet another position that had her working with Riot Games’ top three employees, COO Scott Gelb, CEO Nicolo Laurent and president Dylan Jadeja. One year later, McCracken says she received a video of two of her colleagues, including Gelb, “at a dance club with scantily-clad women in Shanghai.” Later, after making a veiled joke about it to colleagues, the complaint says McCracken was pulled into a one-on-one with Gelb in which McCracken was asked to “clean up” rumours spread about him in his absence (in part because Kotaku’s report was close to publication). McCracken implies she was partially blamed for the Shanghai story leaking out into the workplace at some point later. Afterwards, McCracken, whom the complaint says was close to getting promoted, was reportedly prevented from attending meetings with senior leadership and that some of her current projects were cut off at the knees. When SeyFarth Shaw investigated, the complaint says, McCracken was simply moved to another building and away from her team.
You can read the entire lawsuit here.
Header image: Riot Games