California says Riot Games is refusing to fully cooperate with its gender discrimination investigation

    
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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.”

Welp.

Further reading:

Source: DFEH, BBC, Kotaku. Thanks, BBB! <3
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Bruno Brito

I’m going to be honest here, and this is not me defending Riot: If a person, or a Company aren’t legally bind to show or say anything, they shouldn’t. Cops, the FBI, and whoever, are NOT your friends. Don’t buy the “Tell the truth and clear everything up from the start” lie. Shut the fuck up and lawyer up.

This advice is brought to you by Popehat.

Again, this is general advice. If Riot really has this shitshow happening inside it, then may they be meteorshowered with lawful demands to comply. But there’s a due process to these things.

All that being said, after all this circus, Riot saying it’s disappointed in something is ironically cute.

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Andrew Ross

Riot has done or attempted to do some cool social things in the past. I loved that about them. But damn, the gender inequality stuff… ~50%. How can you be so wrong about something so big?

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Crowe

I’m not familiar with what they did that was so great but I can agree with the other half of what you said.

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Bannex

I trust a corporation of ball grabbing executives about as much as I trust the state of California, this should end well….

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imayb1

We’ve also made several recent requests that the DFEH participate in a call with us to address their requests.

Does this sound like weasely PR speak to you? Because it really sounds weasely to me. It makes me think they wanted to have a phone chat to acquire special arrangements or gain special acceptances for the documentation they’re supposed to provide. Maybe that’s just my cynicism.

As Mr. Jacobs pointed out, it’s possible that they cannot disclose third-party dealings without being compelled by law… but IMO, their track record does not inspire optimism.

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Mark Jacobs

As much as I hate to say this, there might be good legal reasons for them to withhold some data from DFEH unless they are compelled (via a suit) to do so. There really *might* not be anything nefarious going on there in terms of Riot’s behavior.

It’s possible that DFEH is overreaching with its requests (ask for everything possible), it’s also possible that Riot is just being stubborn, trying to cover things up, etc.

Again, not defending Riot, but it is possible that they might not be the bad guys in *this* situation.

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Tanek

True. At this point, though, they only have themselves to blame if nobody feels like giving them the benefit of that particular doubt.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

While this is always a possibility and we’re never going to know what really happened here, government agencies generally don’t knee-jerk themselves into litigation if they can at all avoid it.

Once they were on the DFEH’s radar, they were screwed. They should have realized that, fallen on their knees, mea culpa’ed, and thrown their entire data base at them, taken the fine, and retired.

Instead, they haven’t yet grasped their situation. They are still trying to game the situation to their advantage. They are behaving as though hurling a press release at DFEH full of PR speak will magically solve their problem.

Now, and likely unnecessarily, they are headed to court.

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Solaris

I would almost guarantee Riot would never have to go that far had they not pushed the bullshit arbitration stance in the middle of the whole mess. But now they have backed themselves into a corner.

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Mark Jacobs

Solaris, yeah, that probably didn’t help them one bit.

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Mark Jacobs

Possibly, but if DFEH was requesting data about say, Tencent, and any communications between Tencent and Riot, Riot might have had no choice but to say no.

Unfortunately, one of the things you learn in law school is to ask for as much information as possible while expecting the other side to balk. Sometimes you also do this because you are hoping to discover things that you are not currently aware of but hope to find. Now, you expect the other side to push back but for all we know, DFEH was pushing into an area which would have violated Riot’s agreements with Tencent. If that was the case, Riot would have had to say no unless compelled via a lawsuit. This kind of stuff happens all the time and is in lots of different kinds of contracts. And *just* having DFEH asking is not necessarily the same is being compelled, especially if you believe that the request is overreaching.

Again, no inside information here, just thinking out loud.

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Solaris

While I don’t disagree with you Mark, I find it difficult to give Riot the benefit of the doubt here, given their past practices and terrible handling of all matters regarding discrimination and harassment.

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Mark Jacobs

Solaris, yeah, I know. That’s why the *might*. :) I’m not white-knighting them in any way, but just pointing out that DFEH’s requests might be the issue for Riot for good reasons. In my case, I’m not giving either side the benefit of the doubt, I just want to know more.

And yeah, what you say about things that have happened in the past doesn’t help one bit. In cases like this I will sometimes go read the actual document(s) so I can get a bit more information about what is going on. It’s amazing what can be found in them in these sorts of situations. Unfortunately, I don’t have the document(s), so I can’t say anything particularly clever right now.

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Solaris

Mark, I didn’t perceive your post as white knighting Riot at all. We’re on same page. 👍

Looking forward to Camelot Unchained. 🗡

Godnaz
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Godnaz

When you see company walk-outs, then understand why… comment image

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Randy Savage

When you clicked on the wrong article…

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Bruno Brito

Cya

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Bryan Correll

Riot promised a “cultural revolution”

Just like Chairman Mao!

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Eliandal

Funnily (or not ;)!). I wonder if they’re receiving guidance on these matters from their corporate overlords?

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Arktouros

This sounds like a scenario where Riot has given DFEH information but not the information it wants.

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Schmidt.Capela

Yep, and if the DFEH is going to the courts in order to compel Riot to provide the information it very likely means withholding the information DFEH wants was done knowingly and intentionally.

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Bruno Brito

I mean, yeah. I’m not defending Riot here, but they SHOULD be coerced by law to give any kind of evidence. That’s how the due process works.

In the end, the truth shall come to light, if the DFEH fights for it.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

This press release, while not Riot Games, shows that DFEH doesn’t kid around:

https://www.dfeh.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/32/2019/05/MNPR2019.05.23.pdf

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Schmidt.Capela

Interesting. So, if DFEH prevails, chances are good Riot will be forced to pay for all of DFEH’s legal costs, meaning not providing this info willingly and forcing DFEH to bring the matter to the courts will literally cost them.

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IronSalamander8 .

Considering Riot Games’ history on this matter, it’s hardly surprising.