The Riot sexual harassment and gender discrimination fiasco is coming up on its anniversary this summer, and from a legal perspective, it’s only just now getting started.
A bit of backstory here: Last summer, Kotaku published a brutal exposé of Riot Games’ culture, with testimony from 28 current and former employees that illuminated the company’s sexual harassment and sexual discrimination problem. In response, Riot promised a “cultural revolution” followed by bizarrely weak action against the worst offenders, and affected employees sought to sue the company individually and as a class action. The studio then attempted to force those employees into private arbitration; after employees revolted, Riot promised that as soon as the “current litigation” was over, it would “give all new Rioters the choice to opt-out of mandatory arbitration for individual sexual harassment and sexual assault claims” and only then determine whether that opt-out would apply to everyone, meaning that current employees could be waiting years for relief, and those currently suing would continue to be shunted to arbitration. All of that eventually led to a very public and embarrassing employee protest and walkout last month, though Riot refused to change its position.
That brings us to today. Riot might be able to stonewall its staff over contract clauses, but it’ll have a harder time pushing around the state of California. The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) has apparently been investigating the company directly since October of last year, specifically in regard to the alleged gender and pay discrimination abuses. Yesterday, the DFEH sent out a press release confirming the investigation and announcing that it was filing an enforcement suit against Riot because the company isn’t fully cooperating with authorities.
“The Department is seeking to require Riot to provide the Department with employee pay data as part of an ongoing investigation into alleged gender discrimination at the Los Angeles-based video game developer. According to the DFEH’s enforcement suit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Riot Games, Inc. has refused to provide the Department with adequate information for DFEH to analyze whether women are paid less than men at the company. DFEH seeks the information as part of an investigation into alleged unequal pay, sexual harassment, sexual assault, retaliation, and gender discrimination in selection and promotion. The superior courts have jurisdiction to compel compliance with DFEH document requests, subpoenas, and interrogatories during a DFEH investigation before any lawsuit is filed.”
For its part, Riot told Kotaku that it’s cooperating in good faith, though this is a company that also thought the appropriate punishment for a VP who repeatedly grabbed staff members’ balls was unpaid leave over Christmas.
“We’ve been in active conversations with the DFEH since its inquiry began. Investigations like this can arise when there have been allegations of workplace disparity and we’ve been cooperating in good faith with the DFEH to address its concerns. During this time, we’ve promptly responded to the DFEH’s requests, and have produced over 2,500 pages of documents and several thousand lines of pay data so far. We’ve also made several recent requests that the DFEH participate in a call with us to address their requests. To date, these requests have been unanswered, so we’re frankly disappointed to see the DFEH issue a press release alleging that we’ve been non-cooperative. We’re confident that we’ve made substantial progress on diversity, inclusion, and company culture, and look forward to continue demonstrating this to the DFEH.”