Current And Former Employees Sue Riot Games For Gender Discrimination

League of Legends cinematic, “A New Dawn.” (Image: Riot Games)

Yesterday, one current and one former employee of Riot Games filed a class action lawsuit against the League of Legends publisher, accusing it of endemic gender-based discrimination and fostering a “men-first” environment.

The lawsuit comes three months after a Kotaku investigation into the sexist culture at Riot Games.

The lawsuit alleges that, “like many of Riot Games’ female employees, Plaintiffs have been denied equal pay and found their careers stifled because they are women. Moreover, Plaintiffs have also seen their working conditions negatively impacted because of the ongoing sexual harassment, misconduct, and bias which predominate the sexually-hostile working environment of Riot Games.”

Riot violated California’s Equal Pay Act and law against gender-based discrimination at the workplace, the complaint argues.

The plaintiffs are asking for compensation on unpaid wages, damages, and other penalties, with an exact amount to be determined at trial. They also ask the court to certify the suit as class action.

League of Legends’ “Pop/Stars” video (Image: Riot Games)

In August, Kotaku detailed Riot Games’ culture of sexism in an investigative report that cited experiences from 28 current and former employees, most of whom described Riot’s working environment as sexist. One of those sources, Jessica Negron, is one of the two plaintiffs in this lawsuit.

Kotaku’s report revealed that Riot’s so-called “bro culture” inspires and, in some instances, rewards behaviour that disadvantages women. The 2,500-employee games company, which is 80% male, regularly turned down female applicants for not fitting the company’s image of “core gamers,” sources said. Women interviewed also said that Riot’s obsession with “culture fits” reinforced a culture that hired and promoted aggressive male personalities and disadvantaged and harmed female recruits and employees.

When sources called out their colleagues’ sexist behaviour, many said, their complaints were brushed aside or used to thwart their careers.

After Kotaku’s report, Riot posted a blog post apologising to current and former employees and promising sweeping changes to the company culture.

One month later, in September, Riot still employed several of the key alleged perpetrators of abusive behaviour, including COO Scott Gelb, who was said to have grabbed colleagues’ genitals, another man who allegedly stifled several women’s careers and verbally harassed them, and one other who was said to have had a history of making sexually charged comments or advances toward unwilling female employees. (Gelb did not respond to a request for comment last month.) Riot also brought on Seyfarth Shaw, a law firm that, in the past, was known for its history busting unions.

Riot has, however, purged many of the people who were accused of facilitating a toxic culture, several current and former employees have told Kotaku.

The plaintiffs bringing yesterday’s complaint against Riot say they want to stop Riot’s alleged practice of paying men more than women who are fulfilling the same job role, promoting men into more superior roles more frequently than women, and demoting women who had similar qualifications as well-compensated men.

The lawsuit complaint also says it wants to prevent Riot from “creating, encouraging, and maintaining a work environment that exposes its female employees to discrimination, harassment, and retaliation on the basis of their gender or sex.” Riot did not immediately respond to Kotaku’s request for comment about the lawsuit.

League of Legends’ “Pop/Stars” video (Image: Riot Games)

Negron says in the lawsuit (and has told Kotaku) that soon after she was hired, her manager quit and she took on her job duties without adequate compensation or a change in job title. Although she asked her superiors about making her title official, she was never interviewed for the position and, instead, three men were hired into the role one after another.

Later, after her third supervisor left, the lawsuit says Negron was offered to perform the role again, still without proper compensation or a job title change.

The lawsuit includes details previously unknown to Kotaku as well, like Negron’s claim that in just one month, she counted that her male colleagues at Riot used the word “dick” over 500 times. The lawsuit also says Negron’s third supervisor had told her that “diversity should not be a focal point of the design of Riot Games’ products because gaming culture is the last remaining safe haven for white teen boys.”

Riot Games’ Los Angeles campus (Photo: Riot Games)

Current Riot employee Melanie McCracken, who is the second plaintiff in the lawsuit, says she has been working at Riot since 2013 and observed “discrimination based on her sex/gender.” She believes she was denied promotions, punished by male leadership and refused proper compensation as part of a trend in discrimination against women.

Her initial supervisor, the lawsuit says, “did not hire females to fill vacancies in senior employment positions.” The complaint says he told McCracken that he would “feel weird having a male” as an assistant. She told her supervisor she wanted a more senior role, which he apparently responded to negatively.

When McCracken complained to HR about his response and gender-based discrimination at Riot, the complaint says that HR failed to keep the meeting confidential and leaked the information to her supervisor.

McCracken took a new position in 2015 as an office manager in the North America region. Her former supervisor, the complaint said, was promoted in a senior position there in 2016. Then, the complaint says, she was apparently “given a five-month countdown to find a new position or ‘be fired.’”

In 2017, McCracken took on yet another position that had her working with Riot Games’ top three employees, COO Scott Gelb, CEO Nicolo Laurent and president Dylan Jadeja. One year later, McCracken says she received a video of two of her colleagues, including Gelb, “at a dance club with scantily-clad women in Shanghai.”

Later, after making a veiled joke about it to colleagues, the complaint says McCracken was pulled into a one-on-one with Gelb in which McCracken was asked to “clean up” rumours spread about him in his absence (in part because Kotaku’s report was close to publication). McCracken implies she was partially blamed for the Shanghai story leaking out into the workplace at some point later.

Afterward, McCracken, whom the complaint says was close to getting promoted, was reportedly prevented from attending meetings with senior leadership and that some of her current projects were cut off at the knees. When SeyFarth Shaw investigated, the complaint says, McCracken was simply moved to another building and away from her team.

You can read the entire lawsuit here:


Comments

    "The lawsuit includes details previously unknown to Kotaku as well, like Negron’s claim that in just one month, she counted that her male colleagues at Riot used the word “dick” over 500 times."
    LOL

      I had to laugh also, if only because it just sounds ridiculous without any sort of context to it.

      That said... I have issues with people using certain language if its directed at others and/or has the intent to harm, but I also have issues with people wanting to police other people's language because something is distasteful to them personally.

        I think the context is that riot is "bro culture" which was also quoted in the article, which means theres alot of dudes talking like dudes to each other. If Riot was an Australian company. I wouldnt be surprised if it wasnt the word Dick, but something else used alot.
        Its definitely in the 'police other people's language' box.

          Is this where we learn there is a guy at a Riot called Richard and they were just talking to him this whole time.

          Oh no I get that, but I just have this vision of someone hearing the word 'dick' then drawing a mark on the wall while fuming about 'bro culture' with no clue how or why the word was used.

          Meanwhile there's poor Richard working down the hall...

            Now im just laughing at the though of this girl marking down every time the word dick was said in the office.

              Opportunity lost. Had she made a swear jar then she could have eliminated the wage gap with dick alone.

                If just ONE person also found that she was monitoring the word "Dick" in the office and i bet you they would have decided to say it more rather than less trying to make it like the Meow game from super troopers.

      Check page 6, section 15 "Examples of hostile work environment", that's a better representation than what (for some reason) the article chose to highlight.

    On the one hand I can see that this has merit (I haven't looked into the accusations though apparently they have some strong evidence). On the other hand problems apparently date back as far as 2013 and have continued for at least 5 years. 5 YEARS and we have only had this come up in this year as widely known thing. If this was so major I have to wonder why nothing was done or why it was important enough to see for so long. With at least one person working for the full 5 years I have to wonder why they didn't just try and find new jobs elsewhere if they felt stifled or discriminated against. It's one thing to push through adversity, quite another to bang your head against a brick wall repeatedly.

    I'd like to why it took so long for anyone to do anything about this. It just seems like this was designed to blow up in a big way rather than the natural response to a company doing wrong by it's employees.

    I'm not defending Riot by any means it just feels like there's more going on here than I'm seeing.

      Pretty simple answer to all this, really, and is why so many companies across all sorts of fields have had similar problems: career prospects.

      Rocking the boat, especially in close knit industries, will get you effectively blacklisted. That there is a limited pool of work for certain roles within the industry, and that the experience and networking exposure gained from staying there was considered invaluable is another reason someone would put their head down and keep working. Maybe also a thought that this behaviour is widespread and if you want to work in games you've got to tolerate a degree of shitty-dudeness.

      I also think that day to day even clearly egregious behaviour can just sort of be swept away. If you have management that is disinterested in fixing the problem(s), or is the problem, then you do just start accepting certain things that you might not have in a different environment. It's only when you look back on stuff in totality that it becomes clear exactly how f*cked it has been.

      All that said it's ridiculous it's gone this long. Pretty telling that even in today's risk averse HR environment this stuff still continued - even though it exposes Riot to potential harms financially or to reputation. Shows exactly how ingrained and uncontested some really shit behaviour was. Baked into the foundations of the company.

      On the other hand problems apparently date back as far as 2013 and have continued for at least 5 years. 5 YEARS and we have only had this come up in this year as widely known thing. If this was so major I have to wonder why nothing was done or why it was important enough to see for so long.

      Because it's really only been the last couple of years that women are feeling safe enough to actually come forward with these sorts of things. People are actually listening and believing, rather than simply dismissing it, just like Riot itself has.

      With at least one person working for the full 5 years I have to wonder why they didn't just try and find new jobs elsewhere if they felt stifled or discriminated against.
      Because the field is incredibly competitive, especially for women who - as Riot demonstrated - prefer to hire men over women. On top of that, if they then leave, they're going to be asked why they left their previous employer. Telling the truth would be risky, because I have no doubt that it would get back to Riot and suddenly that person's now getting negative references and is undesirable.

      I work in the games industry and I can tell you first hand that leaving isn't always the best option. When people are new to an industry with scarce opportunities for employment elsewhere, they tend to be more hesitant to speak up against poor pay and working conditions.

      Many (if not all) will quietly resolve to put up with discrimination or worse, in the hopes that someday a better opportunity comes along. For younger employees with plenty of debt, the lack of a financial safety net means that walking off the job is a frightening and untenable scenario. It can sometimes take months, even years, for employees to either build up the courage to speak up or find something better.

      As many know the gaming industry is extremely difficult to get into let alone thrive. Exiting a job and being asked about why you exited it at your new job and saying it was due to gender discrimination or something akin to that would make you look like a liability. Right or wrong that's how HR recruiters see these matter and want to protect their interest. This also doesn't include that the higher-ups may just spread false or grievous rumours that you're a terrible employee and that's why you left further hindering your chances at getting another job. It's -better the devil you know than the devil you don't know sort of situation I imagine.

    ...Riot’s obsession with “culture fits”...

    So basically you aren't allowed to choose the person you think will fit in best with the rest of the team. Okay.

    One month later, in September, Riot still employed several of the key alleged perpetrators of abusive behaviour...

    Presumption of innocence? Due process? What's Riot supposed to do? Stand all these people down until an investigation (possibly lasting months) has taken place, leading to its business taking a nose-dive?

    Riot also brought on Seyfarth Shaw, a law firm that, in the past, was known for its history busting unions.

    Yes, heaven forbid a person should be free to choose his, her or its own legal representation.

    ...she counted that her male colleagues at Riot used the word “dick” over 500 times.

    Yes. Using the word "dick" is clearly demeaning to women and should never be used around or in the hearing of women. Please also stop using the words "dude", "man" and "bullshit" (bulls are male).

    The lawsuit also says Negron’s third supervisor had told her that “diversity should not be a focal point of the design of Riot Games’ products because gaming culture is the last remaining safe haven for white teen boys.”

    ...and this couldn't possibly have been intended as a tongue-in-cheek remark.

    She told her supervisor she wanted a more senior role, which he apparently responded to negatively.

    Is she serious? She sounds like the sort of toxic presence that you'd do well to excise from your business.

    If that's the best that McKracken and Negron can do I hope they are prepared for all their dirty laundry to be aired in court. Of course, because they are doing this "for the cause" there is no possibility of them accepting a monetary settlement... no... none at all.

      Presumption of innocence before proven guilty? No this is the listen and believe era.

        Well said, and thanks for raising an important point :-)

        I'm all for listening and believing. The trouble is that someone might honestly believe something to be the case, when an impartial observer might interpret things differently. Ideally, Riot would have stood down the alleged perpetrators on full pay and held a full investigation conducted by an independent third party (e.g. a law firm). In reality, this may have caused irreparable disruption to Riot's business (given the seniority of the alleged perpetrators). Another alternative would have been to allow the complainant to work remotely and put up 'Chinese walls' to prevent her from having to contact or be contacted by the complainant. Again, a fairly expensive course to take. At the end of the day, I think it will take a tribunal of fact to judge the veracity of the allegations and Riot's conduct after they were made.

        The problem is that “listen and believe” turned into “listen and assume guilt”. Listen and believe was only ever supposed to mean that all complaints were treated seriously and investigated - instead it’s been hijacked by morons who think an accusation is proof of guilt on its own.

          I genuinely don't understand this take, which I keep hearing all the time: "Why guilt is assumed automatically! Where's the due process!" etc. It's not like people opinions are getting people thrown into jail without even hitting the courts, you know? This case, in particular, will be processed by a court of law and the defendants may yet be found innocent regardless of all people "assuming" guilt.

          Interestingly, people who make that sort of claim are themselves assuming innocence on the accused! Which means prejudicedly assuming guilt on the accusers. So having an opinion--and accompanying assumption on this kind of cases is either ok or not both ways.

            Because the media and campaigners reports allegations as if they’re stronger than the legal principle of presumption of innocence until guilt is proven. You can totally destroy a person’s reputation on a mere allegation - whether it ends up being proven or not - because “listen and believe” has been used as a rallying call to tear sown anybody remotely suspected of misconduct. You don’t have to be thrown in jail or fired to be disadvantaged by the media shit storm that people like to whip up over allegations of sexual harassment or misogyny.

            If I can see reasonably good evidence that somebody has done something wrong, I’ll lean towards believing they’re guilty. But if allegations amount to nebulous “he said, she said” or petty complaints with limited merit, then I’m not going to call for people to immediately stand down or be dismissed from their position until I know more. Unfortunately so many people are just out for blood and to engage in character assassination that nobody seems to remember that point.

            Punish the guilty, walk then through the streets naked shouting “Shame!”. I have no problems with that, hell I’ll join you. But I’m not condemning somebody without demonstrably good cause, and mere allegation isn’t strong enough in most cases.

              Fair enough, I agree with most of that. However, I don't see how Kotaku (the "media" in this instance) is presenting anything in a slanted way? They continuously use the word "alleged" and even though they are presenting only one side of the story, it is because Blizzard declined to comment at this juncture.

              Other than the media, the people commenting here and in other public forums will have opinions. Some will be inclined to assume guilt, others to assume innocence and others will try to be as neutral as possible. In the end, though, none of those opinions will affect the legal outcome.

                Lol, "Blizzard", I meant Riot. Wonder why Blizzard is in my mind these days.

                I'm not necessarily referring to this instance - because it does sound like Riot have a shitty culture and it's fair to call them out on that - just commenting on the mood in general when things like this come out. Kotaku US has its own share of rabble-rousing when reporting on alleged misconduct asking questions about why somebody is still employed or whether Company X or Industry Y is 'doing enough' about allegations when they're still being investigated - or were investigated and found to be without merit for dismissal. The worst, by far, was in 2014 when Max Temkin was accused of 'rape' - he denied it absolutely nothing ever came of it, but Patricia Hernandez on Kotaku US decided he was guilty of something and crucified him in a screed for 'not doing enough'. That attitude persists to this day around any allegation of misconduct.

                I'm not against crucifying people if they've demonstrably done the wrong thing. But I'm so tired of the perpetual outrage machine where we have to crucify people before the allegation is shown to have merit, or where we're supposed to be outraged after the fact just for the sake of it. That's why so many people don't care anymore - because every event, no matter how minor, has to be blown out of proportion with sides taken in an attempt to claim some moral high ground.

                Also using the word 'alleged' isn't enough to avoid biased reporting - it's just a way to avoid directly attributing guilt, a half-arsed shield. I don't think the reporting is overly biased in this article, but some elements are clearly written to engender sympathy (e.g. 'Dick' counter over one month, or 'I didn't get a position I wanted therefore sexism maaaaybe?') when there's zero real context. That's waving a flag at a bull if you're inclined to draw battle lines from the start, but are otherwise statements that are only curious, not proof of anything.

                  Well, in all fairness, both the "dick" thing and the "didn't get a position" are both excerpted from the lawsuit. Additionally, the lawsuit explains how McCracken didn't just out of the blue demand a position without reasoning but rather, she was at the point were she should have been naturally progressing within the company (which was demonstrated by her having no problem finding a position with greater upward mobility in another department) but was curtailed first by her boss' opinion regarding women in senior roles and later by his attempts to stop her from moving and further complicating her life afterwards.

                  If any, Kotaku failed in showing their well-known sympathy for these causes by picking one of the weakest complaints in the document ("dick") and wording poorly McCracken's case obfuscating the fact that her request for a higher position was warranted. Predictably, the people who mock or dismiss this kind of articles clung to those two things.

                  Nevertheless, you make a good case and I see where you are coming from. Thanks for taking the time to discuss.

      Well, in the same way that you presume that an alleged thing could have gone the other way, why not entertain that it's actually the way it's told?

      For example, you assume that the "safe haven for white boys" was tongue in cheek. Why? You weren't there, that woman was, so she surely caught from language cues whether it was seriously said or not. The only way in which you can imagine an alternate take is by implying that she is lying or obfuscating. So I ask again: why? Why is your first impulse not to believe her?

        My first impulse is not to believe anyone. I am pretty sceptical about he said / she said stories.

          Hmm, I struggle with that line of thinking. It may be that I'm cynical in the other direction? That I expect people doing bad things being more likely than people lying about other people doing bad things?

          Last edited 09/11/18 9:24 am

          Hmmm, I struggle with that line of thinking. It may be that I'm cynical in the other direction? That I expect people doing bad things being more likely than people lying about other people doing bad things?

            I think a lot of people are like that. Mostly I think because it is usually true. Most people would have no real motive to come and falsely accuse someone of doing something bad.

            However, William Blackstone famously said: "[T]he law holds that it is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer."

            This is what allows our society to largely avoid living in fear of being punished unjustly, give or take the odd bent copper.

              Yeah, that's another thing I struggle with. I entirely see how it's logically and ethically sound. In practicality, though, that means that 9 victims are not done justice for the fear of creating 1 additional victim. Hell, if it was just like that, I could stomach it... but the truth is that perpetrators who get away are overwhelmingly more likely to repeat their infraction (or even go bigger) than not. So in the end... how many more victims are being created by letting the guilty escape?

    Good. It sounds like an absolutely shitty place to work at and being managed by utter cockwombles.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now