By KAREN MICHAEL Special correspondent
California-based game developer, Riot Games, reportedly agreed to divide a $100 million settlement among over 1,000 women who were impacted by what the class-action lawsuit described as a “bro culture.”
The 2018 lawsuit filed by two former female employees on behalf of a class of women detailed a work environment of rampant sexual harassment, sex-based discrimination, retaliation and failure by management and human resources to properly address complaints.
The lawsuit followed published articles detailing the sexually inappropriate work environment at Riot Games. The lawsuit alleged nothing improved for women after the published reports.
The lawsuit alleged that Riot Games:
- Paid women less than similarly situated men
- Assigned women to jobs that did not compensate as highly as those jobs populated by men, even when women were equally qualified for the more highly compensated jobs
- Promoted similarly situated and qualified men more frequently than women who are equally and more qualified for promotion
- Assigned or demoted women to lower paid positions than similarly-situated men, even when these women’s qualifications were equal to or greater than the men’s qualifications
- Created, encouraged, and maintained a work environment that exposed female employees to discrimination, harassment, and retaliation on the basis of their gender
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The detailed complaint alleged abhorrent behavior by men towards one another, and towards and in the presence of women.
- The complaint alleged, for example, “Women are required to participate and tolerate crude male humor which includes jokes about sex, defecation, masturbation, rape, and torture. Women who do not join in these adolescent humor jokes, are classified as ‘snobby’ and unwilling to fit in with the company. During a single month, [the plaintiff] counted that the word “dck” was used in excess of 500 times by male employees of Riot Games.”
There was allegedly an email chain described as, “Riot Games Hottest Women Employees” where the hotness of women on the list were rated.
The Complaint alleged there were “unsolicited and unwelcome pictures of male genitalia shown to employees from their bosses or colleagues;” a female employee discovered an email chain about her where a colleague described having sex with her and adding she “would be a good target to sleep with and not call again;” and one employee was told she was on a list getting passed around by senior leaders detailing who they would sleep with.
Women were falsely portrayed as less gamer quality than men and this caused a hiring practice that disproportionately favored men, resulting in women being eliminated from consideration because they were not considered “core gamers,” according to the case. The plaintiffs alleged that female applicants and employees who are outspoken were considered “aggressive,” “too ambitious,” and “annoying.”
One plaintiff alleged her boss told her, “Diversity should not be a focal point of the design of Riot Games’ products because gaming culture is the last remaining safe-haven for white teen boys.”
The Riot Games website promoting Diversity & Inclusion promises to build a Riot Games “where everyone can thrive.” The site promises to make Riot a “great home for people who love making games by setting a high bar for diversity and inclusion, and fostering a fair, collaborative, high-performing culture.” It identifies among its “few simple beliefs” that “We believe…We must not tolerate sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, ageism, religious discrimination, and bigotry of any kind.”
In a separate lawsuit filed in February 2021, a former administrative assistant for Riot Games CEO Nicolo Laurent sued Laurent claiming he engaged in repeated acts of sexual harassment over a number of years.
Flowery words and promises on a website don’t determine the culture. People do.
All of this comes down to leadership who have accepted normalized behaviors. Leaders and managers should be continually asking, “What have we normalized that shouldn’t be normal?” And then fix whatever is within your span of control that shouldn’t be normalized. None of the alleged behaviors should ever be “normal.”
Leaders must not wait until they are forced to pay a $100 million settlement before the organization looks inward and makes improvements.
This comes down to more than money and lawsuits. In this case and every case like this — there are victims. A person or — in this case — multiple people who endured horrific and demeaning behaviors that undermined their abilities and success. Victims are usually forgotten in cases like this where we focus on the high dollar settlement. Focus on the people that this despicable behavior impacts and let that influence a positive change in your organization.
Karen Michael is an attorney and the president of Richmond-based Karen Michael PLC and author of “Stay Hired.” She can be reached at email@example.com.