Riot says there's 'no evidence' to support allegations of sexual misconduct against CEO

Riot Games
(Image credit: Riot Games)

  • A Riot Games committee says it has been "unable to find any evidence" that CEO Nicolo Laurent sexually harassed his former assistant, Sharon O'Donnell.
  • O'Donnell sued Riot and Laurent in January 2021, alleging that Laurent made inappropriate sexual advances toward her and then fired her in July 2020 when she rejected them.
  • At the time, Riot denied O'Donnell's characterization of her termination, saying the firing was "based on multiple well-documented complaints," but brought in a law firm to investigate the sexual misconduct allegations.

A Riot Games board committee says a third-party investigation has found "no evidence" that Riot CEO Nicolo Laurent "harassed, discriminated, or retaliated against" Sharon O'Donnell, a former executive assistant who was fired in July 2020 and subsequently sued Laurent and the company for sexual harassment. The committee has recommended that no actions be taken against Laurent.

The investigation itself was conducted by law firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP, according to Riot's full statement on the matter, and the firm's conclusions were reviewed by the committee. The committee's final assessment considered whether there was factual evidence of misconduct, it said, and whether any interactions between Laurent and O’Donnell "could have been interpreted as harassing, discriminatory, or retaliatory."

In her lawsuit, O'Donnell alleges that Laurent made inappropriate remarks and advances, such as telling her to be more feminine and that she "should 'cum' over to his house" when his wife was away, and then punished her professionally for rejecting him. Riot's committee claims it can't find any evidential support for those allegations.

"This is not a recommendation we take lightly," the committee wrote. "In cases involving high-ranking executives, we recognize that power dynamics can often give rise to behaviors and biases that infect the experiences of others within the organization in toxic ways. Moreover, in many such cases, reaching a conclusion about these kinds of allegations can be difficult. Most cases of this nature are not black and white; they fall into the grey. However, this was not one of those cases. In this case, we were simply unable to find any evidence that would justify a sanction of any kind against Laurent."

The committee added that it will ask Riot to reopen the investigation "without hesitation and without prejudice" if further information regarding inappropriate conduct comes to light, and said that it remains "fully invested in overseeing the Company's initiatives to transform Riot's culture."

This isn't the first time that Riot's Special Committee of the Board of Directors has investigated one of the company’s officers: In December 2018, chief operating officer Scott Gelb was suspended for two months after the committee verified claims of "inappropriate and unprofessional behavior" against him.

In a message sent to Riot employees, Laurent firmly denied the allegations against him. "It's important you hear this from me directly: The allegations of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation involving me are not true," he wrote. "Nothing of that nature, or even remotely close to it, ever happened. 

"From the very beginning of this process, I've pledged my cooperation, total transparency, and provided access to anything requested. I can say with certainty that if these allegations were true, the Special Committee would have recommended my termination and the board would have fired me. The LC1 team would have demanded that as well, because the behaviors described in the complaint have no place at Riot."

As reported by the Washington Post, Riot has also filed allegations of witness tampering on the part of O’Donnell and others working on her behalf, as well as two claims of harassment against O’Donnell herself, made anonymously out of "concern about additional harassment from Plaintiff and the press."

"Defendants have learned that Plaintiff has engaged in harassing and/or apparently threatening behavior toward potential witnesses in this action—as recently as last week—including that she (1) offered an individual compensation for testifying on her behalf; (2) encouraged individuals to file a lawsuit against Mr. Laurent and/or join in her lawsuit so they can personally benefit, despite the individuals having stated they have no claim against Mr. Laurent; (3) likely disseminated private contact information of witnesses to the press; and (4) likely encouraged individuals to threaten witnesses on her behalf," Riot said in a filing dated March 16.

Riot wants an expedited conference with the judge on the case "to address these issues in the immediate future in order to avoid further harassment and unlawful tampering of these and potentially other witnesses." 

Interestingly, the report comes just one day after hardware manufacturer Alienware ended an esports partnership with Riot nearly a year ahead of schedule. Both companies confirmed that the sponsorship deal had been halted, and while neither commented on the cause, a Dot Esports report said that it was due to Alienware's growing discomfort with Riot's public image. 

The studio has been under heightened scrutiny ever since a 2018 Kotaku investigation into the "culture of sexism" at the company; in 2019, Riot agreed to pay $10 million to settle a subsequent gender discrimination lawsuit, but that was derailed when California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed an objection, stating that the settlement was far too low and and made "no enforceable changes to employment policies, at a company alleged to be rife with sexism."

I've reached out to the law firm representing O'Donnell in her suit against Riot for comment, and will update if I receive a reply.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.