California DFEH moves to protect Riot workers from retaliation for cooperating in state investigation

It lurks.

Blizzard isn’t the only gaming studio under fire by regulators in California: We’ve been covering a similar situation within League of Legends company Riot Games since 2018, when Kotaku’s expose of workplace conditions was followed by an employee walkout, multiple lawsuits, and that eternal story about the company VP who repeatedly grabbed subordinates’ balls was given a slap on the wrist. In 2020, the plaintiffs in one class-action lawsuit withdrew their agreement to Riot’s $10M settlement proposal at the urging of no less than the very same California DFEH and DLSE; the suit went back to court, but the judge sent it to arbitration, excepting one plaintiff who wasn’t bound by an arbitration clause and was given leave to pursue her suit. The DFEH and DLSE also lodged their own separate enforcement suit against the company.

We’re recapping all of this because Riot’s making headlines again this week for the same scandal. In 2019, in the middle of all of the accusations back in 2019, when the California DFEH filed its own suit and confirmed its investigation, it did so specifically because it said Riot wasn’t fully cooperating with its investigation – that it had “refused to provide the Department with adequate information for DFEH to analyze whether women are paid less than men at the company,” which it is required to do by law.

“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 noted at the time. No, we won’t stop pointing this out.

Anyhow, Gamasutra is now reporting that the California DFEH is continuing to find that Riot is impeding this investigation. Earlier this summer, it filed to compel the company to stop interfering with employees’ right to speak to government investigators, which surely Riot’s attorneys know is against the law.

“California’s civil rights agency, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) today asked the Los Angeles Superior Court to compel Riot Games Inc.’s compliance with the Court’s June 4, 2021 order requiring the company to send a notice to its workers about their rights to speak with DFEH,” the DFEH writes this week. “The notice will advise workers of their right to speak freely with the government about unlawful workplace practices and participate in DFEH’s pending action, without fear of retaliation, regardless of non-disparagement and nondisclosure terms in their settlement agreements.”

California also summarizes its concerns about Riot retaliation and its slow compliance over the last few years.

“In 2019, more than a year after the government opened a company-wide investigation of sexual harassment, sex discrimination, and sexual assault at Riot Games, the company announced it had reached secret settlement agreements with approximately 100 women who waived their claims and rights, without notice of the government’s actions. For the next 18 months, the DFEH sought the secret settlement agreements. The Court ordered Riot to produce them to the government in January 2021; however, Riot delayed production until April 2021. Alarmed by language in Riot’s settlement and separation agreements that suggested employees could not voluntarily and candidly speak with the government about sexual harassment and other violations, and obtain relief in the government’s actions, DFEH promptly moved for relief from the Court. The Court ordered Riot to issue the corrective notice; however, Riot has delayed the process for two months. The court-ordered notice informs workers that they ‘may freely cooperate, participate, and obtain potential relief, if awarded,’ in DFEH’s pending action, and that ‘Riot Games cannot retaliate or take any adverse action against [them] for speaking with DFEH, participating in DFEH pending action, or obtaining potential relief in such action.’ Moreover, ‘Riot Games cannot require [any worker] to either notify the company or obtain permission before speaking with DFEH,’ and that ‘[i]t is unlawful for [any] employer to retaliate against [workers] for speaking to the government or otherwise voluntarily participating or cooperating in government proceedings.'”

Riot told Gamasutra that it hasn’t been retaliating or blocking current or former employees from speaking out, but again, this is a company that responded to a labor walkout by hiring a union-busting firm, so continuing skepticism is warranted.

Further reading on the Riot Games scandal:

Source: DFEH, Gamasutra
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