Over 150 Riot Employees Walk Out To Protest Forced Arbitration And Sexist Culture [Updated]

Over 150 discontented Riot Games employees walked out of the League of Legends publisher’s offices in Los Angeles today to protest the company’s stance on forced arbitration. Standing in a parking lot on Riot’s campus, employees held picket signs and gave impassioned speeches.

“We’re asking that forced arbitration be ended for all past, current, and future Riot employees, including contractors and in current litigation,” said Jocelyn Monahan, a social listening strategist at Riot, in an interview with Kotaku. Standing in front of a sign reading “Rioters Unplugged,” a play on Riot’s internal “Riot Unplugged” meetings, Monahan would later tell her assembled colleagues through a megaphone, “asking to feel safe does not make you entitled.”

Monahan had one major point she hoped to get across to her colleagues—even those who chose to stay in their desks and continue working. “We are what makes Riot great. I want us to feel solidarity and connection with each other. I want us to feel connected. I want us to feel like our voices are heard and heard in a way that matters.” Colleagues took turns speaking through the megaphone, with several admitting that they were scared to participate and be labelled “anti-Riot.” Said one, “I was worried. I was like, ‘What if I go and nobody shows up?’ I’m a little less worried about that now.” Others are showing their support with the #riotwalkout hashtag, which hundreds have been tweeting.

Today’s protest appears to be the first labour-related walkout for a large game studio like Riot. The company’s management is allowing its employees to participate and has urged managers to be accommodating and understanding. In an email to Kotaku this morning, a Riot representative added, “We respect Rioters who choose to walkout today and will not tolerate retaliation of any kind as a result of participating (or not).”

Riot employees gathered during today’s walkout (Image: Nathan Grayson)

In the months since Kotaku’s investigation uncovering endemic sexism at Riot Games, five current or former employees sued the company, in part, for violating California’s Equal Pay Act. Last week, Riot filed a motion to force two of those current employees into arbitration, an extralegal forum where a suit does not go in front of a jury. Recently, 20,000 Google employees walked out to end forced arbitration; months later, Google announced it would comply, but only for harassment cases. Last week, Riot announced it would now allow incoming employees to opt out of forced arbitration for harassment suits and would consider extending that to current employees “as soon as current litigation is resolved.”

Giving a speech, one current Riot employee announced she was quitting in two weeks. “I’m quitting because I don’t want to see people who were protected by people in high places in Riot,” the employee said. Two higher-up employees at Riot Games, including the COO, have been retained at the company (in the COO’s case, after a two-month unpaid leave) despite several complaints against them to HR and otherwise being accused of everything from gendered promotion strategies to ball-grabbing in Kotaku reports. Adding that she’s worried that she’ll “be labelled a red flag,” she continued, “I don’t even spend time with my husband who works here, because I worry that he’ll also be labelled.”

Nearly half a dozen in attendance said that while they rarely talk in Slack or meetings, they felt compelled to publicly express concerns about Riot’s culture today.

A Riot employee speaking to her colleagues through a megaphone (Image: Nathan Grayson)

Signs at the protest read, “It shouldn’t take all this to do the right thing,” “Be the company you say you are,” and “Silence one of us, you silence us all.” In a Kotaku report earlier today, employees expressed several reasons they would participate. While several are attending specifically to show support for the two plaintiffs in suits against Riot, others were frustrated that eight months after Kotaku’s investigation, they have not seen concrete signs that Riot is dismantling its sexist culture. Said one, “So far I haven’t seen a single outcome of our diversity and inclusion efforts at Riot. I haven’t seen a single metric or number to indicate things have improved and I haven’t seen a single project get finished.”

One other employee, who is male, explained, “While I fully believe Riot is doing everything they can in the moment to end future arbitration, I see value in presenting a nonviolent, unified voice. As someone with a voice, I am lending it to others who feel like they might not have one or be unheard.”

Updated: 6/5/2019, 10:58 AEST: Toward the end of the walkout, Monahan made an announcement saying that if Riot management doesn’t make any sort of commitment on forced arbitration by May 16—the date of the next Riot Unplugged meeting—she and others involved with the walkout will take further action. Another walkout organiser, Riot writer Indu Reddy, was not able to delve into specifics of what that will mean, but she told Kotaku that “we do have plans, and we do have days that we’re planning, and we do have commitments that we have responses for.”

Reddy also said that despite Riot’s statement, retaliation is an ongoing concern. “We might face unforeseen consequences despite leadership’s own commitments, because leadership is one entity, and there are a lot of Rioters throughout the org,” she said. “We will prepare for retaliation. I think it wouldn’t be smart to not plan for it. But we’re not assuming it either because leadership said they wouldn’t retaliate—for this one, anyway. We will continue to ask for confirmation for future demonstrations.”

The mood at the walkout, however, was generally positive. Robin, a Los Angeles chapter organiser for advocacy group Game Workers Unite, expressed hope that today’s walkout will inspire game developers at other companies, too.

“The fact that this action went so well—there were people on the mic, everyone was so excited, there were so many people sharing their stories—I think that’s gonna inspire a lot of other people at companies to realise they have a lot of power over the conditions at their workplaces,” Robin told Kotaku. “This is going to be a tremendous example for people to know that they can make their conditions better.”


Comments

    Good for them. That actually takes some guts to do, especially in the US where it seems like they can just fire people pretty much at will.

    Can we get actual facts for this actions?

    so far I see a lot of "“asking to feel safe does not make you entitled.” feeling safe is a state and subject to the opinion of the individual...

    I'm really not saying that this protests are unreasonable but so far all I see people complain about general company policies that they initially signed up for by ...going corporate for their employment.

      Come on. The workplace environment today is not like it was in the 60s when you could quit one job and have another by the afternoon.

      Nowadays, if you get offered work that isn't casual/low paid/flexible to suit the employer not you, you feel blessed and sign on the dotted line. Even if you read the small print and feel slightly concerned that some wording sounds to be very much in the management's favour, you still sign because you need a job.

      Very few people have enough clout that they can go "naaah, they can change that clause and get back to me, or I walk...."

        but what are they actually asking for?
        "end future arbitration" - in what way and how is this currently abused by Riot?

        their demands are pretty much = we want better weather ...

        better than what?
        better for whom?
        better in what way? (more rain / more sun /more snow?)
        I might be missing a point here but I seriously don't see any 'quantifiable' demands in their protests.
        ---
        is this a generation problem?

          I'm guessing you missed some (or all) of the previous articles. If you type "Riot" into your search engine and read through the news articles your questions might even be answered...

          Are you thick?

          The whole reason they walked out is because riot is currently using it.

          Are you being willfully ignorant just to demonize the protestors?

            You can do better than this comment.

              I think I did a stellar job.

              Unlike the person, I replied to.

                Depends on what you want to achieve. If the answer is "nothing", then I have to agree with you. If it's better discourse, more understanding, and ultimately the positive societal progress we all need to be on board for to achieve; not so much.

                  His comment would not exist had he/she bothered to actually read the article. They are using said ingorance as an attempt yo deligitimize the protest. Hence my reply.

                  @djbear but you just jump to outright hostility. Why is that? It could be true that he should have read more closely but that's no reason to call him names. You actually had a good example of a sensible and polite response to him there already from Spinout.

                  It doesn't invalidate the observation that the demands of group actions like this are regularly vague, and there's nothing that invalidates protests quicker than vague outcomes (Look at the protests for women's right to vote compared to the women's march against Trump for historical examples of this.)

                  Arbitration is actually important for many things across society and business, we can't have everyone firing legal nukes at each other all the time and many issues can be solved by arbitration. To assume foul-play by instead of good intentions by default is a toxic worldview.

                  You can't control someone not reading the article but you can control your attitude. It sucks.

          There was an investigative piece where Kotaku spoke to a number of Riot employees, and uncovered a bunch of stuff. It ranged from perceived gender bias by recruiting or promoting 'real gamers' to farting on people's heads in meetings.
          This thing is about being forced into arbitration instead of having the ability to take legal action. Basically, they don't like the employment contract that they signed. Which is fair enough, but they did sign it so a valuable lesson to be learned there.
          The safety part, I'm not sure. It did say in the investigative piece that emails had been uncovered discussing which female employees they'd slept with. Maybe it's part of that behaviour.

          It's not a "generation problem." There are plenty of older people who don't want to deepthroat whatever boot corporate shoves in their face, either.

          Unfair, unjust contracts are unfair and unjust. Asking for a better contract is not navel gazing or a complaint about how inherently unfair life might be ("the weather"). It's a complaint about the unjust behavior of humans that can and should change.

          well thx for the down vote on this and not much other explanation... did my own research in to this
          and yes I read the article above that pretty much give 0 backstory on the issue

          RIP conversation
          viva liberal version of argumentation

    Welp, they warned 'em they were gonna do it. Good on 'em for sticking to their guns.

    Also worth noting how many men were involved in the walkout too. Even aside from supporting their female colleagues, it also drives home that this isn't just a gender issue- the forced arbitration clause in the contract is bullshit and it extends to EVERY issue an employee might have with management. I'm surprised it's taken this long for it to reach boiling point.

      Also worth noting how many men were involved in the walkout too. Even aside from supporting their female colleagues, it also drives home that this isn't just a gender issue

      It's actually never been a gender issue. It's always been a bad people vs. good people issue.

    Good for them, I only wish there was some way they could exert more pressure on the company through actual disruption of service.

    Never cross a picket line.

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