Riot Games hit with class action lawsuit for gender discrimination

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Three months after Kotaku (opens in new tab) published an in-depth report on the sexist culture of League of Legends developer Riot Games, one current and one former Riot employee have now filed a class action lawsuit against the studio alleging gender discrimination.

The lawsuit was filed by Jessica Negron, a former employee and one of the sources in Kotaku’s report, and Melanie McCracken, a current employee, on behalf of the “hundreds” of women who the complaint says have experienced gender discrimination at Riot in the past four years. The lawsuit is seeking to stop Riot’s alleged practices of paying women less than men in similar or identical positions, assigning women qualified for senior positions to low-paying positions, promoting men more frequently than equally qualified women, and maintaining an environment that exposes women to harassment and retaliation. 

The numerous allegations in the lawsuit are centered around first-hand accounts provided by Negron and McCracken, which are supported by multiple statements from other women. In one complaint, Negron expanded on the account she previously shared with Kotaku. 

Negron’s account

Negron started working at Riot in April 2015. Six months later, her manager left and she assumed his responsibilities, though the complaint says she was not granted a bump to her salary or job title. After a year, Negron asked for the position to be made official, and the complaint says her supervisor, Geoff Chandler, supported her and said she had been successful in the role. However, the complaint says she was not interviewed for the position. Instead, three men were brought in. The first two only held the position for a few weeks, but the third, Dillon Buckner, eventually became Negron’s superior. Negron was in a room full of people when Buckner’s appointment was announced, an experience described as “extremely embarrassing.” 

When Negron asked about why she wasn’t even interviewed for the position despite being groomed for it, the complaint says she was told she “didn’t do enough to ‘take’ the role and they wanted to give the man who eventually took it an opportunity to take on more responsibility.” She complained to HR, but the lawsuit says nothing was done. The complaint says that months later, Buckner told Negron he had been pressured to fire her to make a “show of strength.” This pressure allegedly came from Chandler and Riot esports consultant Bob Holtzman. Negron complained to HR again, but the lawsuit says that, again, nothing was done. 

In early 2017, Negron learned that Buckner was leaving his position. She asked to take over the role once again, but the complaint says she was told she still would not receive a boost to her salary or title. In April 2017, Negron left Riot. 

McCracken’s account

McCracken, who started working at Riot in October 2013 and still works there because she hopes to change the studio’s “bro culture,” shared two accounts of gender discrimination. 

From early 2014 through early 2015, McCracken worked under Jin Oh, who the complaint says fostered a hostile work environment which allowed gender discrimination. For example, the complaint says Oh did not hire women for senior positions, but instead hired them as “assistants,” saying he would “feel weird” having male assistants.

Around September 2014, McCracken sought a position outside Oh’s team. The complaint says Oh demanded that she find a replacement before leaving, which is described as a “fool’s errand” given the substantial requirements and allegedly below-market pay of McCracken’s position. McCracken spoke to Michael Cullen in HR about Oh’s behavior and asked for her complaint to be kept anonymous. However, the complaint says Cullen failed to protect McCracken’s identity and that this led to a meeting between McCracken and Oh which opened with Oh saying, “So, I hear you’ve been talking to Michael Cullen about me.” The complaint says McCracken was “petrified and angry and terrified that she had no one trust at her own company.”  

McCracken changed departments in early 2015, but Oh was appointed temporary head of her new department not long after. The complaint says she was advised by another supervisor to move to another team “as she had a target on her back for complaining about Oh’s previous misconduct.” The complaint says that in August 2016, she was given “a five-month countdown to find a new position or ‘be fired.'” Oh left Riot in 2016, but was later rehired in a senior position. 

Years later, in June 2018, the complaint says McCracken received a text from a friend containing video of Riot China head Dan Wang and COO Scott Gelb at a dance club in Shanghai with “scantily-clad” women. McCracken told her gaming group that the studio’s Chinese division was having fun but did not share the video or mention Wang or Gelb by name. A week later, the complaint says Gelb met with McCracken and said, “So, I hear that you’ve been showing people pictures of me at a strip club.” McCracken explained that she hadn’t shared any photos or identifying information, but the complaint says Gelb asked her to “clean up” the gossip. 

McCracken later met with Riot recruiter Jordan Carver, who, the complaint says, admitted he was the one who had discussed the “strip club” party and that word had gotten around between managers. When CEO Nicolo Laurent allegedly joked about McCracken possessing “naked photos of Gelb” during a company meeting, she reaffirmed that she had never shared or mentioned any photos. On June 18, she met with Carver again and the incident was deemed a “simple bad game of telephone.” McCracken apologized to Gelb the same day, which is when Gelb informed her that there would be an investigation into the incident. Cullen conducted the investigation and found nothing. 

The complaint says that later that month, when McCracken was due for a promotion, she was “removed from decision-making for her products, the date of her next event was changed without her knowledge, and she was prevented from attending senior leadership meetings.” The complaint says McCracken has since been moved to another building “and isolated from her team,” and that this ordeal has caused her “tremendous anxiety and stress.” 

Other allegations

The lawsuit also skewers Riot’s hiring practices, which are described as “an unwritten policy and practice of preferring men to women in the hiring, promotion, and compensation of employees.” One complaint says Riot’s focus on hiring “core gamers” routinely passes over women, who are assumed to not play games. 

More specific examples are offered to highlight Riot’s alleged frat house environment. For example, an alleged email chain titled “Riot Games Hottest Women Employees” which rates the “hotness” of the women on the list. One woman alleges she discovered another email chain about “what it would be like to penetrate her,” in one which one male employee called her “a good target to sleep with and not call again.” Another woman alleges she found her name on a separate email list senior staff were using to discuss who they would sleep with. There are also allegations of vulgar jokes, employees grabbing each other’s genitals, and unsolicited sexual photos. 

Negron says she was told 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 claims to have heard the word “dick” uttered at the studio over 500 times in one month. Additionally, the lawsuit claims “a former male employee was allowed to remain in a position of leadership despite regularly making sexual comments in the workplace and drugging and raping another Riot Games employee.” 

These accounts are the backbone of an exhaustive list of complaints, which also includes punishing female employees for lodging complaints or requesting promotions and/or increases in pay, disregarding complaints from women while swiftly responding to complaints from men, and failing to enforce policies that prohibit such discrimination, in direct violation of several California labor laws and government codes. Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that Riot has “failed to take all reasonable steps” to address and prevent these issues. 

“Even though the issues plaguing Riot Games have come to light in a public forum,” it reads, “Riot Games is simply sweeping these allegations under the rug with empty investigations and counseling, while protecting the bad actors from any repercussions.” 

Three days after Kotaku’s initial report was published, Riot issued a statement on Twitter promising “immediate and long-term actions” which would bring about “real change for women at Riot.” Some three weeks later, on August 29, Riot published a blog post detailing plans to correct the studio’s culture. These included expanding its diversity initiative, revisiting “core cultural tenets”, and inviting third-party evaluation. 

Riot recently hired the law firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP to investigate complaints of sexism, but according to the lawsuit, the results were inconclusive and no action was taken. As Kotaku reported in September, while Riot’s CEO, COO, and president have vowed to resign if Riot’s culture is not significantly improved by 2019, and while some individuals accused of sexist behavior have allegedly been terminated, many studio leaders have yet to face any repercussions. Meanwhile, Daniel Klein and Mattias Lehman, two Riot employees which the lawsuit describes as outspoken advocates for gender diversity, were allegedly fired in September 2018, not long after they spoke out against the studio’s practices on social media, the complaint says.  

In addition to internal reform, the lawsuit is seeking underpaid wages, attorney fees, punitive and exemplary damages, and further damages for the “injury, humiliation, embarrassment, emotional distress, and hardship” that women allegedly suffered at Riot. The lawsuit also demands a trial by jury, during which exact damages would be determined. 

In a statement distributed yesterday, Riot said: “While we do not discuss the details of ongoing litigation, we can say that we take every allegation of this nature seriously and investigate them thoroughly. We remain committed to a deep and comprehensive evolution of our culture to ensure Riot is a place where all Rioters thrive.”

You can read the full lawsuit here (opens in new tab).

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