January 24, 2020 Category: Sexual Harassment
A gaming company in California has found itself at the crosshairs of civil and equal rights organizations at the conclusion of a contentious lawsuit over equal pay for female employees and sexual harassment. The lawsuit revealed a long-standing and tolerated company culture that discriminated against women by not giving them equal pay and not allowing them to be promoted to senior positions. The details of the case and subsequent settlement by the company also revealed a history of inappropriate sexual harassment by male employees towards their female colleagues.
The Parties Involved in the Lawsuit
The defendant in the lawsuit was Riot Games, a gaming company that was established in 2006. It’s stated purpose was to develop and publish video games made by players, for players. Their most well-known game, League of Legends, was released in 2009 and has gone on to be one of the most-played PC games in the world. The company was founded by Brandon Beck and Marc Miller, and it currently has over 20 offices worldwide and employs over 2,000 individuals.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit were two women who used to work for Riot Games. While the original lawsuit was filed by these two former-employees Melanie McCracken and Jessica Negron, the suit was a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of all current and former female workers at the company.
What’s the History of the Case?
The lawsuit was filed a few months after a scathing article was published by the online gaming news platform Kotaku. The investigation was conducted by interviewing 28 former employees of Riot Games. The interviews uncovered a pattern and a culture of sexism at the company. The article further alleged that the company had created a “bro culture” that was not friendly to women.
Following the article, the company apologized to its workers. It also made a public statement addressing its customers and fans and promised to do better in the future. It further pledged to expand its diversity and inclusion department and to make sure that issues of the past would not be repeated in the future.
McCracken began working at Riot in 2013. She alleged that from the beginning of her employment, she faced a harassing and hostile work environment at the hands of her direct supervisor. This environment was apparent to all employees who worked under him. He further discriminated against all female employees by never letting them interview for senior positions or advance in the company.
She further claimed that her supervisor only hired women to work as assistants. When she questioned him about this, he said that it would feel strange to have a man be work as an assistant, a position that is traditionally for women. When that supervisor was promoted, McCracken was allegedly told she had a target on her back by a different supervisor and she was given five months to seek employment elsewhere.
The Sexual Harassment Lawsuit
In November 2018, the two former employees sued Riot Games claiming alleged violations of the California Equal Pay Act (EPA). The EPA makes it clear that no employee should be paid less than equally situated employees in the same position based on sex, ethnicity, or another protected class. The Act has been amended several times, mostly to add more protections including making it illegal to fire an employee because they sought equal pay to a co-worker under the law.
The lawsuit asked for all wages due to the two plaintiffs and punitive damages. The plaintiffs alleged that they were not given equal pay and that their careers were stalled simply because of their gender. They also made several claims of sexual harassment including male employees making lewd gestures and comments and sending them unsolicited pictures of their genitalia.
Riot games attempted to make the two women settle their lawsuit in arbitration. This had been a clause in their employment contract; however, the women did not want to have their case heard in this manner. In May 2019, employees at Riot Games staged a walkout in protest of the arbitration clause. After this, the company announced that employees would soon be able to opt-out of the arbitration option.
Results of the Lawsuit
Riot games agreed to settle the case in August 2019 for $10 million. The court documents were released in California state court. The payment is reserved for over 1,000 former and current female employees who are eligible to seek partial compensation from the settlement fund. While the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees are equal to about $3.3 million, that still leaves over $6 million in settlement money for the 1,000 employees to split.