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Riot Games settles gender discrimination lawsuit, says sexism is 'not systemic'

(Image credit: Riot Games)

Riot Games has announced an agreement in principle to settle a class action lawsuit filed against it last year that alleged systemic sexism and gender-based discrimination at the studio. Riot said that its investigation of the claims prior to the settlement revealed that "gender discrimination (in pay or promotion), sexual harassment, and retaliation are not systemic issues at Riot," but also acknowledged that "some Rioters have had experiences that did not live up to our values or culture."

"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. 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," the studio said in a statement.

"Therefore, rather than entrench ourselves and continue to litigate, we chose to pivot and try to take an approach that we believe best demonstrates our commitment to owning our past, and to healing the company so that we can move forward together."

The November 2018 class action suited followed an in-depth Kotaku investigation into "bro culture" at Riot, and cited examples of sexist behavior ranging from unsolicited dick pics and the sexual objectification of female employees (including an alleged "Riot Games Hottest Women Employees" email chain), to requiring female employees to take on responsibilities above their title and pay grade without proper compensation. The suit also alleged that Riot prioritizes "core gamers" for new hires, which is largely considered to exclude women, and most shocking of all, that "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."

Details of the proposed settlement haven't been revealed because it's still in the process of being finalized. Riot said the settlement must also be reviewed and approved by the court.

An attorney representing the plaintiffs said the settlement "provides meaningful and fair value to class members for their experiences at Riot Games," and also indicates that the studio, despite its insistence that sexism is not systemic, is serious about changing its practices.

"A number of significant changes to the corporate culture have been made, including increased transparency and industry-leading diversity and inclusion programs," attorney Ryan Saba said. "The many Riot employees who spoke up, including the plaintiffs, significantly helped to change the culture at Riot."

"We are grateful for every Rioter who has come forward with their concerns and believe this resolution is fair for everyone involved," Riot CEO Nicolo Laurent said. "With this agreement, we are honoring our commitment to find the best and most expeditious way for all Rioters, and Riot, to move forward and heal. Over the past year, we've made substantial progress toward evolving our culture and will continue to pursue this work as we strive to be the most inclusive company in gaming."

Riot hired a "chief diversity officer" in March 2019, six months after the Kotaku report, and in May announced a 90-day plan to improve diversity and inclusion at the studio; during an employee walkout that took place the same month, however, one worker told Kotaku that they "haven't seen a single outcome" from Riot's efforts up to that point. 

Earlier this month the studio issued an update claiming to have made "significant strides" in improving its workplace culture. An investigation into Riot's employment practices by California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing is ongoing.

Andy covers the day-to-day happenings in the big, wide world of PC gaming—the stuff we call "news." In his off hours, he wishes he had time to play the 80-hour RPGs and immersive sims he used to love so much.