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Unequal Pay + Sexually-Hostile Workplace = Sex Discrimination

Posted by Joe Sayas | Mar 13, 2020 | 0 Comments

Riot Games, Inc. is a multi-billion dollar video game developer, with headquarters in Los Angeles, operating in 24 offices around the world and employing about 2,500 workers, 80% of them male.

Riot Games' employees, Melanie McCracken and Jessica Negron, sued their employer in a class action, alleging that female employees in the company were denied equal pay and denied promotion because they are women. They claim to have been subjected to ongoing sexual harassment which predominate the sexually-hostile working environment.            

The lawsuit alleged that Riot Games is notorious for fostering “bro culture” – a culture of sexism and mistreatment towards women. The lawsuit detailed several examples of "bro culture" at Riot Games, some of which include: 

  • Requiring female employees to fulfill roles above their title and pay grade, while falsely promising them a promotion but ultimately hiring a man to fill the position, despite the female employee's competence.
  • Male supervisors belittling female employees at staff meetings by comments such as "her kids and husband must really miss her while she was at work;" "she talks louder than she should;" "she's shrill;" or "she should speak less."
  • Women are made fun of and sexually objectified. There is an ongoing e-mail chain of "Riot Games Hottest Women Employees" which rates the "hotness" of each female on the list.
  • Women are required to participate and tolerate crude male humor which include offensive jokes about sex, defecation, masturbation, rape, and torture.
  • Riot Games states it will only hire "core gamers" defined as "hardcore video game fans." Men are assumed to be core gamers, but women are assumed to not be core garners or even gamers at all. Because this hiring practice unfairly favors men, many qualified women are not hired.
  • Female applicants and employees who are outspoken are considered "aggressive," "too ambitious," and "annoying." Senior management emphasized the importance of hiring only "core gamers," i.e., men, and if women are hired, they must be ‘quiet and will - literally and figuratively - "shut up and play the game."'

Aside from being denied equal pay and promotions, female employees are exposed to ongoing sexual harassment and are retaliated against for speaking out. The hostile work environment is shown in the following:

  • Unsolicited and unwelcome pictures of male genitalia shown to employees from their bosses or colleagues.
  • A female employee was informed that she was on a list getting passed around by senior leaders detailing who they would sleep with.
  • Men telling jokes that are intended to demean women's intellect or are sexually explicit.
  • Intentionally explaining ideas to women in a condescending or patronizing way (commonly known as "mansplaining")
  • Punching, grabbing, and touching each other's genitals as a form of a gag.
  • Mimicking women blatantly in front of them.
  • Telling stories on a daily basis about sexual conquests
  • Using their bodies to simulate "humping" another person.
  • A former male employee was allowed to remain in a position of leadership despite regularly making sexual comments in the workplace and drugging and raping another Riot Games' employee.

Sometime in August 2019, the parties reached a settlement, where Riot Games agreed to pay $10 million in damages to its female employees employed in the last 5 years.

In an interesting twist, California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed an objection to the settlement, stating that the proposed settlement would grossly undercompensate the class members, paying them $6 million to resolve claims that may be worth as much as $400 million.

The California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement also objected to the settlement because it would release Riot Games from liability for certain state labor code violations. Both objections urged the court to reject the proposed settlement.

 As a result of these objections, the class withdrew the proposed $10 million settlement and replaced their original attorneys with new lawyers. The case continues to be pending in Los Angeles Superior Court.

About the Author

Joe Sayas

C. JOE SAYAS, JR., Esq. Recognized as one of California's top employment and labor law attorneys by the Daily Journal, C. Joe Sayas, Jr. has devoted his more than 25-year litigation career to protecting workers' and consumer rights. He has fought for employees discriminated due to disability, ra...

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