UPDATED: Riot Games Changes Course On Sexual Harassment Lawsuit, Seeks Private Arbitration Again
Riot Games is reversing course on its decision not to force arbitration to settle its sexual harassment and pay equity class-action lawsuits. The suits, which stemmed from the exposé of Riot's culture in 2018, were initially set to be resolved via arbitration until backlash against the process -- and a walkout by employees -- altered Riot's stance.
The counsel for the plaintiffs, noted women's rights attorney Genie Harrison, said that Riot "knows it can’t settle the case on the cheap" -- referring to about two years' of settlement talks -- and "wants to force Riot women into arbitration, preventing the women from fighting together as a group against the company."
Having succeeded in this effort on Monday, some (but not all) of the women involved in the suit will need to file individual arbitration actions instead and, according to Harrison, Riot "will pay a private judge huge amounts of money to decide the fate of the women's claims. And all that will happen in secret, with Riot's discriminatory conduct hidden from the public."
The suit was initially settled in December 2019 for $10 million, but California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing chipped in just a month later to say that the amount "grossly undercompensates" the plaintiffs and that the claims could be worth as much as $400 million. That agency, along with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, later accused the plaintiffs' legal representation of colluding with Riot Games to produce the initial figure, leading to its dismissal and the arrival of Harrison.
UPDATE 1/29/20201 5:49 EST: We have received the following reply from Riot Games and offer it here as they dispute Harrison's claims of things being done in secret. According to Corporate Communications Director of Riot Games Joe Hixson:
On Monday our Motion to Compel was granted and our arbitration agreements were once again upheld by the court, as we were confident they would be. There were claims outside the scope of this motion which Riot never attempted to compel to arbitration, such as government and government-adjacent PAGA claims, which remain in court.
This ruling will allow us to reach a fair and speedy resolution to these individual cases, some of which have already been pending for more than two years. We have always been, and will continue to be, willing to engage in constructive dialogue to bring these matters to resolution as quickly as possible -- so long as the resolution is grounded in the facts of these cases.
Notably, unlike some arbitration agreements, the agreements between Riot and its employees have no confidentiality clauses, which means plaintiffs can talk about their suit in the same ways they could in court. In addition, both parties must agree on the arbitrator, who is typically a retired judge. Either party can reject an arbitrator — for example, based on their history of past cases — and the case will not proceed until a mutually agreeable arbitrator is selected. All of the same remedies available to individuals through a court trial are available through arbitration, which means there is no cap on total potential damages awarded, or the types of damages awarded.
Over the last two-and-a-half years, we’ve established new and updated policies and programs to promote inclusion in day-to-day life at Riot and help rebuild trust, increased diversity in our leadership team and across the company, continued to take action to ensure we are equitable to all Rioters, and established new recruiting and hiring processes to better meet our goals and improve candidate experiences. While we know we still have work to do, we’re confident in the strides we’ve made towards our ultimate goal of becoming the most inclusive company in gaming. We pledged early on to be transparent about our progress and more details on our progress can be found in our latest diversity and inclusion progress report, an updated version of which will be released in the coming months as a new annual report.
About the Author
Jason Winter is a veteran gaming journalist, he brings a wide range of experience to MMOBomb, including two years with Beckett Media where he served as the editor of the leading gaming magazine Massive Online Gamer. He has also written professionally for several gaming websites.
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