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Riot settles class-action suit with employees who alleged sexism, discrimination

Both sides say they are pleased with the agreement

Chanel Dawnée, left, hugs Jess Kent, right, during a staged walk out at Riot Games to protest the company’s move to force arbitration on sexual harassment lawsuits on May 6, 2019, in Los Angeles, California. 
Riot Games employees during a walkout to protest forced arbitration on May 6, 2019.
Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Riot Games and the plaintiffs in a class-action gender discrimination lawsuit against the company have reached a settlement, the League of Legends maker announced yesterday. Both sides called the agreement a strong, fair outcome that helped change a studio culture alleged to be hostile to women employees.

Terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but in a joint statement published on Riot’s website, the plaintiffs’ lead attorney called it “a very strong settlement agreement that provides meaningful and fair value.”

“This is a clear indication that Riot is dedicated to making progress in evolving its culture and employment practices,” added Ryan Saba of the law firm Rosen Saba. He listed “a number of significant changes to the corporate culture,” which included greater transparency and strong diversity and inclusion programs and policies.

“The many Riot employees who spoke up, including the plaintiffs, significantly helped to change the culture at Riot,” Saba said.

In November, plaintiffs Melanie McCracken and Jessica Negron filed suit against Riot, following an investigative report by Kotaku in August 2018 that described a workplace riven by sexism, harassment and retaliation against those who complained. Male employees, according to the original complaint, promulgated a “men-first” “bro culture” where unsolicited pictures of genitalia were sent around, as well as rankings of female employees by their attractiveness.

In response to the report, Riot announced expansions to its culture, diversity and inclusion policies, and hired an independent consultant (and a former executive at Uber, itself the subject of gender discrimination controversy) to advise on culture change at the company.

Riot, for its part, said yesterday that “we can confidently state that gender discrimination (in pay or promotion), sexual harassment, and retaliation are not systemic issues at Riot.” However, “what we also learned during this process was that some Rioters have had experiences that did not live up to our values or culture.”

“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 company said. “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.”

Riot’s position in this case was not always so amicable; in May, the company attempted to drive the proceedings into arbitration hearings, which typically limit outcomes for potential plaintiffs. Workers organized a walkout to protest forced arbitration, and it was a significant workplace action underlining the recent push among developers to organize their labor.

Riot Walkout, the group behind that action, called the settlement “a victory for women in games. We believe that the policy changes Riot agreed to make will continue the progress toward equality that we’ve made over the last year.”