Yesterday, over 150 employees of American developer Riot Games staged a walkout in the employee parking lot at the company's office in Santa Monica, CA over forced arbitration. The walkout is part an ongoing saga that started with a report by Kotaku in August 2018.
The Situation Unfolds
On August 7th, 2018, a report by Kotaku journalist Ceclia D'Anastasio on sexism within the culture of Riot Games was published.
The 'meat' of the story was a compilation of testimonies from nearly 30 Riot Games employees — both former and current — who experienced a wide array of misconduct ranging from the aforementioned sexism, as well as issues within the Riot Games heirarchy in a systemic context. Former and current Riot Games employees spoke out on twitter in solidarity of those who contributed to the report, sharing similar experiences within the company.
Riot Games responded via a report by ESPN later in the day, which featured a statement by Riot communications lead Joe Hixson:
"This article shines a light on areas where we haven't lived up to our own values, which will not stand at Riot. We've taken action against many of the specific instances in the article, and we're committed to digging in, addressing every issue, and fixing the underlying causes. All Rioters must be accountable for creating an environment where everyone has an equal opportunity to be heard, grow their role, advance in the organization, and fulfill their potential."
Hixson went on to emphasize that the accounts in the Kotaku report were not in line with Riot's company culture:
"Our cultural values are aspirational and we're realistic about the fact that the values and behaviors in our manifesto aren't always perfectly reflected in the reality of the experiences of Rioters across Riot. Talking over women in meetings, promoting/hiring anyone less deserving than anyone else, and crossing the line from assertive to aggressive are three examples of actions that are explicitly opposite to our culture."
At the end of August, Riot released "Our First Steps Forward" in a post on the 'Who We Are' page of its official website, apologizing to employees as well as vowing to reform their company culture and expand the company's Diversity & Inclusion team. Riot did just that by hiring Francis Frei on September 12, 2018. Frei, who was previously a senior VP for leadership and strategy at Uber, joined Riot as a senior advisor.
On November 6, 2018, nearly three months after Kotaku's intial report, the website published a followup report confirming that a current employee and a former employee were filing a class action lawsuit against Riot Games, accusing the company of gender-based discrimination.
On December 13, 2018, Riot Games suspended chief operating officer Scott Gelb without pay for two months. According to a report by Kotaku, the suspension comes following an investigation after the initial reports of misconduct in Riot's heirarchy. The report pointed towards Gelb's reason for suspension towards several allegations from current and former Riot employees several current regarding inappropriate contact for comedic effect.
The allegations include Gelb touching employee's testicles and other crossings-of-boundaries in a quest for comedy. A detailed individual report came as unexpected, but based on an email from from Riot Games CEO Nicolo Laurent that was included in Kotaku's report, Gelb was an exception:
"...we made a very rare exception in the case of our COO, Scott Gelb. There are factors that collectively drive this exception. The Special Committee of the Board of Directors has specifically requested that one of Scott's consequences be highly visible. Scott holds one of the most senior roles at Riot and is held to a higher level of accountability and visibility, therefore certain consequences are going to be very visible to Rioters."
Gelb was given additional training during his suspension without pay, but his reained employment with Riot was met with mixed responses from the community.
On February 26, 2019, Riot Games updated its Diversity & Inclusion initiatives. Five days later, Angela Roseboro was hired as Riot Games' first chief diversity officer.
The Dam Breaks
On April 26, 2019, Kotaku reported that Riot Games filed motions to force two of the five current and former employees who had filed lawsuits against the company the previous year into private arbitration. Riot claimed that the employees had arbitration clauses in their respective contracts:
“There can be no dispute that Plaintiff agreed to arbitration,” one document obtained by Kotaku reads, going on to note that their 'claims for discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, as well as for wages due, are expressly listed' in the arbitration agreement. Ryan Saba, a partner at Los Angeles law firm Rosen Saba, LLP Ryan Saba presented ESPN with the following statement:
"It is obvious that Riot Games does not want these claims presented in a jury trial because the company knows it has done wrong. Instead of being a socially responsible company, the reaction of Riot Games is to further damage these hard working woman [sic] by attempting to silence them in a closed-door arbitration proceeding. These women, and many more like them, deserve to be heard and respected."
Riot Games released a statement on May 3rd, 2019 regarding the company's commitment to arbitration, stating that once current litigation was resolved, the company would no longer require mandatory arbitration:
"As soon as current litigation is resolved, we will give all new Rioters the choice to opt-out of mandatory arbitration for individual sexual harassment and sexual assault claims. At that time, we will also commit to have a firm answer around expanding the scope and extending this opt-out to all Rioters."
Seemingly unsatisfied with the company's commitment to what was outlined in "Our First Steps Forward", employees took steps forward of their own — right out of the building. On May 6, 2019 Nearly 200 employees staged a walkout outside of the Riot Games campus in protest of the mandatory arbitration policy.
On May 7, 2019, Kotaku reported that employees of Riot Dublin had staged their own walkout in protest of the company's forced arbitration.
Stay tuned for live updates on the Riot Games situation. We will continue updating the story as new information becomes available.
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