Bungie has won almost $500,000 in damages from a Destiny 2 player who harassed one of its community managers and his wife with abusive, racist, and distressing calls and messages, and sent an unsolicited pizza order to their home in a manner designed to intimidate and frighten the couple.
According to members of Bungie’s legal team, the judgment from a Washington state court sets important precedents that will empower employers to go after anyone who harasses their employees online, and strengthen the enforcement of laws against online trolling and harassment. “This one is special,” Bungie’s attorney Dylan Schmeyer tweeted.
As laid out in the court’s judgment, the defendant, Jesse James Comer, was “incensed” when the community manager — whom both Bungie and the court declined to name, to protect them from further harassment — spotlighted some fan art by a Black community member. Using anonymous phone numbers, Comer left a string of “hideous, bigoted” voicemails on the community manager’s personal phone, some asking that Bungie create options in Destiny 2 “in which only persons of color would be killed,” before proceeding to threaten the community manager’s wife with more racist voicemails and texts. Then he ordered a pizza to be delivered to their home, leaving instructions for the driver to knock at least five times, loudly, to make the intrusion as frightening as possible.
The court ruled that Comer was liable to pay over $489,000 in damages, fees, and expenses it had accrued in protecting and supporting its employees, investigating Comer, and prosecuting the case against him.
As laid out in a Twitter thread by Kathryn Tewson, a crusading paralegal who worked on the case, the judgment is significant because it recognizes that patterns of harassment escalate from online trolling to real-world violence; establishes that harassment of an employee for doing their job damages the employer as well, which can then use its resources to go after the culprit; and recognized a new tort — a legal term for a form of injury or harm for which courts can impose liability — around cyber and telephone harassment.
While it may seem odd to celebrate a judgment that awards a company — rather than an individual — with damages for personal harassment, the significance of the case is that its legal precedent empowers and motivates employers to use their resources to protect employees who face harassment as part of their jobs. Bungie and its lawyers have broken important new ground that could improve the level of protection for workers in the game industry and beyond.
“Why is this a brag-worthy win? Well, because the law moves slowly, frankly; much more slowly then either technology or culture,” Tewson said. “With this win, we helped to close that gap in some significant ways. [...] This one was a really emotional win, y’all. I cried when the order came in.” Replying to another Twitter user, Tewson added, “Harassment in these communities is a terrible problem and it’s deeply satisfying to help be a part of the solution, even a small part.”
Echoing the sentiment, Schmeyer said, “I’m not sure I’ve worked *harder* on anything before. From investigation to research to drafting to project management. The outcome was just so damn important. It’s some of the best lawyering I’ve ever done. Some of the best work my team has.”
“Congratulations to my clients, who stood up and fought for something that mattered,” Schmeyer continued. “Congratulations to my team. We made law.
“And a hearty fuck you to the dregs of digital society who do real harm and believe themselves above responsibility, beyond accountability. You aren’t.”