Former Employee Sues Over Sexual Harassment, Studio Says She Ruined Its Game

Elemental: War of Magic was not a rousing success of a game. The 2010 strategy title was a buggy, muddled mess at launch that even publisher Stardock felt was a broken game, badly in need of mending.

This August, two years after Elemental's disastrous debut, Stardock filed a lawsuit against former employee Alexandra Miseta, claiming that actions she took immediately before her departure were a major contributing factor to Elemental's failure. However, Stardock vs Miseta is not the first time Miseta and Stardock CEO Brad Wardell have faced off in court -- and the timing of the new lawsuit suggests it could have more to do with the other court case than it does with Elemental.

Miseta was the manager of marketing at Stardock when she left the company abruptly three weeks before Elemental shipped. Documents obtained by Kotaku show that when she left in August 2010, she was threatening a suit against Wardell for sexual harassment. That suit was filed in December 2010, seeking unspecified damages in excess of $US25,000. (According to Michigan law [PDF], an employee must first file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission before he or she can proceed with a lawsuit; the EEOC may then take up to 180 days to review the complaint.)

Court records from the lawsuit show several troubling messages from Wardell to Miseta.

Court records from the lawsuit show several troubling messages from Wardell to Miseta, as well as allegations of problematic in-person behaviour. Email messages included in the records go back as far as March 2008, and include a link to a sexually explicit YouTube video, a comment that Miseta was chosen to go to a conference "not just because you're 'hot'" and a 100-question "purity test" that he asked her to take and then send him her score. The purity test includes questions like, "Have you engaged in group sex?", "Have you engaged in intercourse with an unconscious person, while conscious?" and "Have you had anal intercourse?"

Witness depositions included in the case documents refer to multiple comments from Wardell to female employees about their breast and bra sizes, and one incident where he asked Miseta to attend a media tour because "[her] nipples look better on TV". They also describe a time on a media tour when Wardell's visit to the hotel room Miseta and another female colleague were sharing made Miseta feel uncomfortable.

In May 2010, during a dinner on a media tour, Wardell touched Miseta's hair. It was evidently the last straw for Miseta, who, on June 6, after the media tour had ended, sent her boss an email asking him to change his behaviour:

  1. Please never touch my hair or any of my body parts; not even jokingly.
  2. Please do not talk about my private life or about my boyfriend/future husband in any terms especially negative terms.
  3. Please be careful with your "jokes" which are at many times inappropriate, sexist, vulgar and very embarrassing not only to me, but everyone present.
  4. Please keep your negative personal opinions of others (including family members and/or coworkers) not present at the time of your comments, to yourself. I feel, at times, it puts me in a very uncomfortable position.

With the above few behavioural changes, I'm hoping our previously friendly and professional relationship can be reestablished.

Wardell's reply began cordially, "Thank you for bringing these up to me as I certainly do not want you to feel uncomfortable at work." He promised to be more careful in the future regarding items one and two, but then continued:

#3, however is not acceptable to me. I am an inappropriate, sexist, vulgar and embarrassing person and I'm not inclined to change my behaviour. If this is a problem, you need to find another job.

#4, Again, I am not willing to adapt my behaviour to suit others. If you find my behaviour problematic, I recommend finding another job.

I'm not some manager or coworker of yours. I own the company. It, and your job there, exist to suit my purposes, not vice versa. The company is not an end unto itself, it is a means to an end which is to further the objectives of its shareholders (in this case, me).

Miseta took Wardell's advice: she looked for another job and left Stardock as soon as she had one. On August 3, 2010, she quit Stardock and began her new role elsewhere shortly after.

Miseta vs Wardell, meanwhile, has been making its slow process through the court system for the last year and a half. Discovery -- the process in which depositions are taken, documents exchanged and so on -- took approximately 16 months. After discovery, Wardell's attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The motion for summary dismissal, just over 250 pages long, lays out Wardell's case that the allegations are untrue and that, even if they were, they do not constitute harassment under the law: "In his response, Mr Wardell also made some unadvisable statements, which undoubtedly is the raison d'être for the current litigation. While intemperate, and perhaps insensitive, these statements are neither sexual nor harassing. Mr Wardell certainly regrets making them as even Plaintiff would not have had the temerity to file this lawsuit otherwise."

Miseta's attorneys said that such motions are usually part of the process, and Miseta's lawyers then filed a response to the motion to dismiss.

It took until the middle of this year for the court to hear oral arguments about the motion to dismiss. On July 13 of this year, Judge Robert Ziolkowski heard the arguments and denied the motion to dismiss. Miseta vs. Wardell will go to trial, though a date has not yet been set.

Wardell's reply began cordially, "Thank you for bringing these up to me as I certainly do not want you to feel uncomfortable at work."

Attorneys representing Stardock filed the complaint of Stardock vs Miseta on July 30, less than three weeks later.

This second suit seeks in excess of $US1 million in damages from Miseta, claiming that just before quitting, Miseta "deleted, destroyed, and/or stole" the Elemental marketing materials, analytics and trade show information. Without that information, the complaint argues, Stardock had to spend "vital time" leading up to Elemental's release "attempting to re-create" the marketing materials, "rather than programming, debugging, and otherwise readying Elemental for release."

Wardell did not reply to requests for comment from Kotaku to share his side of the story. If he does, we will update the story.

Miseta's attorney told Kotaku, "It is our opinion that Mr Wardell's lawsuit against Ms Miseta for allegedly deleting files, etc, is baseless and was brought solely in retaliation for her sexual harassment lawsuit. We firmly believe that Ms. Miseta's leaving Stardock had absolutely nothing to do with any failures pertaining to Stardock's release of Elemental. It is our further belief that Mr Wardell has publicly admitted that the failures of Elemental were due solely to his actions and/or inactions."

Many records from the first suit, Miseta vs. Wardell, cast doubt on Stardock's recent assertions. The defendant's motion for summary dismissal -- the document filed by Wardell's attorneys to try and have the case dismissed -- does make brief reference to deleted files, in the context of arguing that Miseta's claims against Wardell are spurious: "Stardock later learned that Plaintiff's last act while at Stardock was to delete her computer account, including all of the marketing materials and files that had been produced for Elemental. The deleted files also included emails from her Stardock account in order to eliminate evidence contrary to her claims of 'constant' harassment by Mr Wardell."

Witness statements found in the response from Miseta's attorneys, however, contradict the claim. One employee specifically testified in her deposition that Miseta gave her a week's advance notice that she would be leaving Stardock, so that she "knew where [Miseta's] files were" and had access to relevant Google docs. Others had no recollection of Wardell or HR manager Angela Marshall (Wardell's sister-in-law) ever mentioning missing documents causing trouble with Elemental.

A former Stardock employee, speaking with Kotaku on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that a mere two weeks before launch, Elemental had many technical issues that had nothing to do with its marketing. The employee also added that at the time, nobody mentioned any materials having gone missing or any sabotage having taken place and showed Kotaku communications from Wardell that indicated satisfaction with how Miseta's staff replacement was taking over the review kit and review guide process.

Both cases are still in active progress in the court system. Kotaku will be following any developments and keeping readers posted with any major updates.


Comments

    This comment has been deemed inappropriate and has been deleted.

      This comment has been deemed inappropriate and has been deleted.

      I think it says quite a lot about the feelings of readers that this comment hasn't been reported.

        I think it was his response to her email that got everyone angry. Disgusting.

    This comment has been deemed inappropriate and has been deleted.

    Great article. Good to see this being reported. Harassment in the workplace remains a systemic issue, and dragging it out into the light is certainly a positive step.

    Whether or not she destroyed the files, the claim that the game sucked because they had to take creative energy away from polishing the game to recreate marketing materials seems pretty tenuous.

      Two weeks before launch too? I had a pretty high regard for Stardock, not so much now. Although it seems that there is a decent amount of support for Miseta from other employees, so the bad egg seems to sit in the big chair.

      Yeah, its nonsense. If they where putting programmers and game designers on marketing tasks its pretty clear the company was incompetently run. Or I suspect more likely, lying through its teeth in the counter suit.

      And no judge is going to accept "Were a relaxed company" as some sort of defense. In my years in the courts every damn case of sexual harassment the company has claimed this. Well yes most companies think they are "relaxed". Thing is, "chilled out" , "relaxed" , "hanging with the bros" or any such language simply does not appear in the legal statutes.

      I'm more inclined to suspect a sexist, toxic and unhappy workplace leading to subpar products and pissed off former employees.

    Bit of a cockhead.

    I hope this guy goes down in flames. What a tool.

      +1

      That guy is a freak of nature. That poor woman :(

    As far as equal rights in the workplace have come, articles like this demonstrate that there are still, deplorably, sub-stratas of society that don't know how to deal with professional women as people.

      Reading through the documents now; this guy is unbelievable!

      "My general obnoxiousness is not subject to change and I would terminate the corporation and all jobs within it if I felt my rights were being curtailed."

        Jesus... What an absolute uber prick.

          I almost don't care if the actual allegations are exaggerated. Anyone who says something like this deserves to lose :)

    That poor woman. What a terrible boss :(

    "I am an inappropriate, sexist, vulgar and embarrassing person and I’m not inclined to change my behaviour. If this is a problem, you need to find another job."

    Urgh.

      I agree the mans a prick, but I honesty see nothing won't with that particular comment. He refuses to change for others, and I can't see that as a bad thing

        I am a teacher at your daughter's school and I constantly sexually harass her. Everyone keeps telling me to change, including the law ...but YOU are the only one who understands me! Thank you! I shall continue harrassing your daughter knowing I have your blessing,

          What a reasonable and comparable situation you present in making your point!
          I honestly can't see any parrallels betweeen your analogy and the actual case. Please reply when you can stop being so sensationalist.

            What gman is attempting to say is that there are laws protecting people from harassment at work, male or female. He broke those. If I refuse to change my admittedly irresponsible ways, I should have to suffer the consequences. It was a work place environment, not a romper room.

    Reasonable comments on Kotaku actually decrying what Brad Wardell did? Holy crap

    I was half expecting some idiot to actually defend him in the comments section. Colour me pleasantly surprised Kotaku commenter's

      He's done good things too. His early stance on piracy was fairly inspirational.

      Doesn't matter how much good you do, though, if people find out that the whole time you were that kind of asshole.

    This makes me sad for a few reasons:
    a) people are dicks, needlessly
    b) I was actually looking forward to Fallen Enchantress, but I won't support a dick
    c) my choice based on b) negatively impacts the non-dicks at Stardock, which is likely almost everyone

    Wardell sounds like an arrogant dick head, He doesn't deserve to be in business.
    Hope he gets pushed out of his own company.

    I know people like this exist (unfortunately), but it still baffles me as to HOW. Everyone else knows they are a massive douche bag, why can't they see it?

      He knows he's a douche but he's got himself a high enough position that he can take that "if you don't like it fuck off" attitude. If someone lower down the pyramid behaved like that they'd be out of a job in no time.

    If it's HIS company (as he claims) then of course he should be able to do what he likes, within the limits of the law (which the harassment lawsuit may prove he did not). He is a prick. He admits it, but it is HIS company. If he wants to be unprofessional or arrogant or simply an overall jerk, that's no one's business except his. If enough of his staff didn't like it, they can quit--just as he suggests--and eventually he'd have no business left to run. That's how the world works. He may have said things that upset her, but she (allegedly) destroyed HIS property (therefore theft), out of spite. Whether or not it affected sales is another matter...she still sounds like a cow. I only raise this because comment so far are decidedly one sided. All stories have at least two sides. I'm happy to be shot down, but I really don't like the "if anyone else thinks opposite to us they are idiots" attitude.

      If you honestly think this you have no idea how a company is supposed to be run in the business world, There are laws and regulations to prevent this type of harassment this idiot inflicts on his employees.

      So yes, you are an idiot. Your whole statement shows you have little to no understanding to how things work and how employees are protected. I'm also guessing your a teenager who has never had a job in their entire life, because that's the only way you can even state something as stupid as you just did.

      It looks to me like you're disagreeing just for the sake of disagreeing. I suggest you re-read the article, lean back, and apply some common sense.

      You will see a few things:
      Wardell being a an unprofessional, power-hungry, law-breaking jerk is proven,
      Miseta destroying files is not proven,

      Simple logic dictates that as of now, Wardell is the villain on all counts.

      I see the point you are trying to make but you were possible a little too aggressiveness in the way you made it for most people to pay much attention.

      Yes, it's his business and he can do what he wants with that business provided it's within the law. The allegation is that his behavior was well outside the law.

      He is also alleging that she intentionally sabotaged his company by destroying/deleting files.

      I agree that even if the first allegations is true, this does not mean that if the second allegation is also true that her actions were justified.

      The reason most people seem to be siding with Alexandra is that the evidence presented in the artical supports the first accusation as true and the second as false. However we only really hear from one of the parties so it really is a bit premature to be wishing death on people.

    So she just deleted her files and Stardock didn't have back ups to restore from? Dumb.

      Wven if they did have backup files, the fact that she would maliciously do such a thing says something about her character.
      Though I doubt that she did anything, and the guys sounds like an asshole.

    I'm so looking forward to Fallen Enchantress, thanks for reminding me about it.

    Well this is disappointing. I rather liked Stardock and I have now lost major respect for them. I was really looking forward to buying Fallen Enchantress to scratch the 4X turn-based strategy itch. Ugh, looks like I won't now.

      I didn't know that the quality of the game was affected by how much of an asshole one of its creators is. And yeah, let's just forget about all those other people who worked on it...
      Oh, but hang on, you buy Apple products because you liked Steve Jobs, not because the products are actually any good, right?

      Seriously, what's with these kneejerk reactions? Is everyone just jumping on the hate bandwagon? If what Miseta alleges is found to be true, then it'll get settled in the courts. It's a civil dispute. And uh, it isn't Kotaku Readers v Wardell, it's Miseta v Wardell.

      Personally, it doesn't affect my buying habits, and I find it rather pathetic that it's able to affect someone else's. Are you really so impressionable?

      tl;dr: This (the CEO is an asshole) and that (the game) are different and separate things.

    CEOs does effect games.... I mean look at the mearger of Squaresoft and Enix, when they merged as Squarenix they went downhill due to changes of management and work ethics.

    Also due your research, Gameloft is making games for apple that are knockoffs of some the best games in the industry, why the CEO is choosing and pushing for that path and even upper management don't have the power to change that.

      Who are Gameloft and why are they relevant?

      The CEO of Stardock has been the same since the beginning. Stardock has been known to produce several gems and one massive flop. So where are these "changes" you speak of, exactly?

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