by Matthew Yapp
Female employees regularly belittled at staff meetings. Women promised pay raises and promotions that were given to male coworkers. Women made fun of and sexually objectified. According to a lawsuit filed in early November, these and other more egregious claims are being brought against Riot Games in a class action suit alleging the company and it’s top management created a workplace environment which fosters a culture of sexism and discrimination toward women.
The lawsuit accuses Riot Games, known for the hit game League of Legends, of not only creating and fostering a “bro culture” but also violating the California Equal pay act and failing to prevent harassment in the workplace. The case was filed on behalf of Jessica Negron, Melanie McCracken and other female employees of the company. Negron is no longer an employee of Riot Games while McCracken still works for the company.
In the more than 150 count suit, the women allege that the company allowed a culture where among other things an e-mail list of “Hottest Women Employees” was distributed that would rank the female workers. Jokes about masturbation, rape and defecation were common place. Any concerns brought to human resources were dismissed as “snobby.”
The women are seeking back wages and undisclosed punitive damages according to the suit. Riot Games is a product of Tencent Games, a division of Tencent a multi-billion dollar Chinese technology company specializing in various internet services such as video games, social media and artificial intelligence. According to the company’s financial report for Q2 2018 the company recorded revenue of more than 11 million USD.
This suit comes only three months after an investigation from Kotaku, an international gaming media network, that highlighted the company’s culture of toxic masculinity. That report claimed that women were prevented from being promoted due to the fact that they didn’t fit the “gamer” mold and that female hires were put under extreme scrutiny judging if they matched the companies culture, a hurdle male employees didn’t have to face.
After the report from Kotaku, Riot Games said there were changes made in the workplace. But the women in the lawsuit claim that many of the worst offenders at Riot Games faced no repercussions including a male employee who “was allowed to remain in a position of leadership despite regularly making sexual comments in the workplace and drugging and raping another … employee.”
Maria Williams-Hawkins, a professor of diversity at Ball State University said that hypermasculinity has been ingrained in much of the entertainment world all the way back to her childhood with shows like Popeye. She said the case could cause a change within the company. She pointed back to the company revenue.
“Some things take a little time. I’ve worked long enough to see companies finally decide they have to hire black, they have to hire brown, they have to hire women. It takes a little bit of time and a little bit of pressure… If you’re a person who has the money you have the control,” Williams-Hawkins said.
“If you keep hitting them in the pocket it helps, it takes a little pressure.”
When asked for a statement by Polygon, Riot Games 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.”
We reached Tyler Vanderpool, one of the lawyers representing Negron and McCracken in their case against Riot, and asked him a few questions on the case. When asked why he took the case in the first place, Mr. Vanderpool said, “Any good attorney is a storyteller, and I don’t mean that we’re hired to create fiction, but our job is to ensure that other people’s stories are told in this situation. You had women who felt silenced and did not have the opportunity for their stories of having been wronged and subjected to retaliation, discrimination, harassment. Those stories weren’t being told. And so our lawsuit is actually their lawsuits, and it’s an opportunity for their stories to be heard.”
In terms of how many women this class action case are being represented, Vanderpool stated, “It’s hard to say. We’re really, in the preliminary stages of litigation. We would estimate it in the hundreds because we’re dealing with both current and former employees of Riot Games.” Vanderpool was unable to say how this number may affect the amount of damages sought from Riot Games.
Matt is a Communications Major and the Managing Editor (2018-2019) of Byte.