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US Courts asked to compel Riot to assist in gender discrimination investigation

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DEFH) is investigating Riot Games following reports of “alleged unequal pay, sexual harassment, sexual assault, retaliation, and gender discrimination in selection and promotion”. The DFEH has now asked the courts to compel Riot to provide information about employee pay after it claimed the developer “refused” to provide the data for “an ongoing investigation into alleged gender discrimination”.

Issues about Riot’s alleged unacceptable workplace culture came to light following a report by Kotaku that took contributions from dozens of members of Riot staff both past and present. While not all female employees had experienced issues, it painted a picture of a studio with a systemic culture of sexism, prompting a formal apology from Riot.

Subsequently, five Riot Games employees – some former, some present – filed a class action lawsuit against the company, alleging the publisher of a “sexually-hostile working environment” that has stifled their pay and career prospects because they are women.

The developer refutes claims it is not cooperating, stating: “We’ve been in active conversations with the DFEH since its inquiry began. Investigations like this can arise when there have been allegations of workplace disparity and we’ve been cooperating in good faith with the DFEH to address its concerns.

“During this time, we’ve promptly responded to the DFEH’s requests, and have produced over 2,500 pages of documents and several thousand lines of pay data so far. We’ve also made several recent requests that the DFEH participate in a call with us to address their requests.

“To date, these requests have been unanswered, so we’re frankly disappointed to see the DFEH issue a press release alleging that we’ve been non-cooperative. We’re confident that we’ve made substantial progress on diversity, inclusion, and company culture, and look forward to continue demonstrating this to the DFEH.”

200 Riot Games employees staged a walkout last month following revelations that the company was trying to block the lawsuit by insisting some of the women involved had agreed to arbitration clauses when they signed their employment contracts. Despite promises to remove forced arbitration clauses from employment contracts going forward, Riot Games is reportedly still refusing to extend the changes to staff already employed with the company – including the women who instigated legal action against the studio following a class-action sex discrimination lawsuit. As reported at the time, employees are statistically less likely to win cases in arbitration than in court.

In an email to MCV last month, Riot Games clarified that while the staff walkout has not seen changes to the arbitration conditions in existing employment contracts of Riot staff, a number of other changes – including a new staff council and a review of its code of conduct – “wouldn’t have happened” without the staff walkout.

“Arbitration was just one topic that Rioters spoke about last week, but there are many other D&I (diversity and inclusion) work streams in progress and in the planning stages,” Riot said via a statement. “Last week’s walkout and related discussions proves that we’re stronger when we leverage the diverse viewpoints of all of Riot; Rioters are passionate and to meet our goals as one team, we need to channel that passion into productive dialogue that accelerate progress and drive change—or at a minimum, mutual understanding.”

Consequently, Riot says it has created a new forum – the D&I Rioters Council – to “leverage a group of engaged, thoughtful Rioters from teams across the company to participate in formal discussions on D&I”. The company has also invited a “diverse group of Rioter”s to participate in reviewing aspects of its Code of Conduct.

About Vikki Blake

It took 15 years of civil service monotony for Vikki to crack and switch to writing about games. She has since become an experienced reporter and critic working with a number of specialist and mainstream outlets in both the UK and beyond, including Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, IGN, MTV, and Variety.

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