Riot Games sued for gender discrimination

Image via Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

Roughly three months after an exhaustive Kotaku report turned a light on the pervasive "bro culture" at League of Legends developer Riot Games, the studio has been sued by one current and one former employee over the "men first" environment they say it enabled and encouraged. As reported by Kotaku, the suit alleges that despite promises to address sexism and discrimination at the studio, "Riot Games is simply sweeping these allegations under the rug with empty investigations and counseling, while protecting bad actors from any repercussion." 

The suit cites several examples of sexist behavior at the studio, ranging from requiring female employees to fulfill roles above their title and pay grade without compensation to sexually objectifying them (there is allegedly an ongoing "Riot Games Hottest Women Employees" email chain) and requiring them to tolerate and participate in "crude male humor," including jokes about "sex, defecation, masturbation, rape, and torture." One of the plaintiffs alleged that male employees used the word "dick" more than 500 times in a single month. 

It also claims that Riot prioritizes "core gamers" for new hires, a description that is generally assumed to exclude women. "Because this hiring practice disproportionately favors men, many qualified women have been denied employment because they were not considered 'core gamers.' Female applicants and employees who are outspoken are considered 'aggressive,' 'too ambitious,' and 'annoying'," the suit says. 

"Indeed, Plaintiff [Jessica] Negron's former supervisor, Geoff Chandler, once 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.'" 

The lawsuit also makes numerous specific allegations of bad behavior including unsolicited dick pics sent by bosses to employees, an email chain in which male employees discuss what it would be like to "penetrate" a particular female employee, co-founder Brandon Beck's use of "no doesn't necessarily mean no" as a company slogan during a meeting (which former product manager Barry Hawkins referenced in his August blog post detailing his decision to leave Riot), and most shocking of all, rape: "A former male employee was allowed to remain in a position of leadership despite regularly making sexual comments in the workplace and drugging and raping another Riot Games employee," the suit states. 

Negron alleges in the suit that roughly six months after taking a job at Riot in 2015, her manager left the company and she took on his responsibilities, with no increase in pay. That went on for the better part of a year, during which she was told repeatedly that she was being "groomed" to take on the position officially. But she was never actually interviewed for the job, which was ultimately given to a male employee; when that male employee left Riot in 2017, she inquired about the position and was told that her salary and job title would not be changing, despite the male employee being given a promotion and salary hike for doing the same job. 

Negron's co-plaintiff, Melanie McCracken, detailed a different sort of story with a similar outcome: Her supervisor allegedly refused to promote women to senior positions, but also took steps to prevent her from seeking more upwardly-mobile positions elsewhere in the company. A complaint to HR that was meant to be anonymous was instead shared with the supervisor, who confronted her about it, and while she was eventually able to transition to a new region, her old supervisor assumed control of that region shortly after, which put her back in the same situation.   

According to the suit, after taking a position in 2017 that had her working with Riot's top management, she encountered further trouble when Riot China head of operations Dan Wang sent her a video of himself and COO Scott Gelb "at a dance club with scantily clad women." She was eventually accused by Gelb of leaking images of him "at a strip club." The matter seems to have been buried after a drawn-out internal investigation, but an in-the-works promotion to a new position ground to a halt this summer after she was sidelined by management. 

"Ms. McCracken's position at Riot Games has been essentially neutralized as she is unable to attend senior leadership meetings with the D3 [Geld, CEO Nicolo Laurent, and President Dylan Jadeja]," the suit says. "Recently, an attorney with the law suit of Seyfarth Shaw, LLP was hird to investigate some of the issues facing Riot Games. However, the results of the investigation were inconclusive and no action was taken against any of the bad actors.

"Instead, after being made aware of Ms. McCracken's anxiety about Mr. Gelb's actions, Ms. McCracken was moved to another building at Riot Games' offices and isolated from her team. She has experienced tremendous anxiety and stress for having spoken out about the misconduct at Riot Games." 

The plaintiffs are seeking damages including all wages (base salary, bonuses, and stock), punitive damages, statutory and civil penalties, and legal fees. They're also asking for an order forbidding Riot from violating California labor laws "by paying its female employees lower wages than it pays their male counterparts for substantially similar work," and that the suit be certified as a class action. 

Update:  Riot issued the following statement in response to our request for comment: "While we do not discuss the details of ongoing litigation, we can say that we take every allegation of this nature seriously and investigate them thoroughly. We remain committed to a deep and comprehensive evolution of our culture to ensure Riot is a place where all Rioters thrive."

It also shared a link to the "Evolving Riot's Culture" page, which it said will enable fans to "monitor our progress, hold us accountable, and to provide a guide so you can see the steps we’re taking."

The lawsuit in full is embedded below.