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Pokémon Go developer Niantic created a ‘sexist boys club’ environment, new lawsuit says

The anonymous former employee is seeking class action status for ‘systemic sexual bias’

Pokémon Go: A photo of a phone showing a Pidgey on screen Photo: Michael McWhertor/Polygon
Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

A former employee at Pokémon Go creator Niantic is suing the company for alleged gender discrimination and sexism that “systemically devalue[s]” the work of women — especially women of color. The lawsuit, first reported by The Verge, is seeking class action status to include other people impacted by what it calls Niantic’s “boys club.”

The former employee is identified as Jane Doe, an Asian woman who worked for the company from 2020 until last week when Niantic laid off 230 people and stopped production and support on several games, including NBA All-World and Marvel: World of Heroes. Doe alleged that other women at the company are discriminated against when it comes to pay, advancement, and value, but also that Niantic leadership is hostile toward people who bring up these issues.

When Doe was hired at the company in 2020, she earned $70,000 before getting a promotion and raise in 2021 — up to $84,000. That year, she learned that a male colleague, “an apprentice,” was hired at a higher wage despite her having “more tenure as an employee, more responsibilities, and a higher job title.” The male colleague continued to earn a higher salary into 2022, being paid more than $20,000 higher than her despite her still having a higher title. In 2023, Doe saw a job posting for her same position listed, again, at a pay band higher than her salary; she confirmed with another male colleague in the same role that he was paid within the band.

When Doe brought these issues up to Niantic’s diversity and inclusion leadership, she left the meeting “in fear of losing her job,” she alleged, after being told her evaluation at Niantic had been — and would continue to be — impacted by speaking up about workplace issues. Niantic continued to discourage employees from discussing sexism in the workplace, she said, after the company’s women’s group, called Wolfpack, issued a survey asking about Niantic’s culture. That survey found that “many” women at the company saw a “sexist work culture” with unequal pay at Niantic. Niantic chief marketing officer Mike Quigely reportedly told the group to remove comments about sexism from its presentation, and advised the group to stop hosting surveys.

“Niantic’s treatment of its female employees, including Plaintiff, sent them the message that they were not valued at Niantic and would be held back in the workplace because they are women and/or women of color,” Doe’s lawyers said in the lawsuit. “Niantic’s treatment of its female employees who voiced concerns about discrimination in the workplace also sent them the message that Niantic did not tolerate any opposition to or concern about the way women were treated there.”

Doe alleged that Niantic’s workplace culture is a violation of equal pay, discrimination, hostile workplace environment, and retaliation laws. She’s looking for a jury to award all impacted people with damages, including from lost pay related to the alleged discrimination issues that kept women underpaid and out of promotions.

Niantic started under Google in 2010 and spun out independently in 2015; its first augmented reality game was 2013’s Ingress, before Pokémon Go arrived in 2015. Beyond its games, Niantic is also building Lightship, a platform for augmented-reality technology to be used by third-party developers. Niantic is also responsible for Pikmin Bloom, Peridot, and Monster Hunter Now. It has ceased development and support for several games over the past few years, including Harry Potter: Wizards Unite and Transformers: Heavy Metal, alongside NBA All-World and Marvel: World of Heroes that were ended alongside last week’s expansive layoff.

Niantic has not responded to Polygon’s request for comment regarding the allegations.

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