This past Monday, in what feels like a biblical victory against misogyny in the gaming industry, Riot Games agreed to pay a $100 million settlement in the gender-based discrimination class-action lawsuit with former and current female employees and two different California state agencies. This comes on the heels of relentless dodging by competitor Activision Blizzard in terms of accountability, and while the Los Angeles Superior Court still has to approve the settlement, Riot’s agreement to the terms marks a significant step forward in terms of companies in the gaming industry accepting any measure of responsibility.
As reported here, Riot’s competition has previously tried to imitate responsible behavior with the formation of a grossly rigged Workplace Responsibility Committee, and driven its employees to strike with their refusal to take any sort of reformative action, much less compensatory. This lawsuit, which began on the heels of a Kotaku investigation into an alleged culture of sexism at Riot Games, came three months after the publishing of the Kotaku expose. Riot may have fought the lawsuit and lost, but a previous ruling ordered the company to pay $10 million. The plaintiffs changed their legal representation, retaining Genie Harrison, who determined the amount insufficient.
Harrison’s assessment was backed by California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) as well as the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE), both of whom said that the over 2,000 women involved in the class-action could be entitled to upwards of $400 million. The settlement reached includes $80 million which will be available to pay damages to women who currently work for, or previously worked for the company since 2014. The remaining $20 million will go to pay legal fees and other miscellaneous expenses.
In addition to the monetary settlement and payment of expenses, Riot also agreed to allocate funds to provide for three years of independent analysis of the company’s systemic problems with gender equity in employee pay and job assignments. These funds will also provide for the development of diversity initiatives to further try and reform company culture.
This will also cover an audit of workplace investigations – pertinent, thanks to the additional lawsuit filed in 2021 by former executive assistant, Sharon O’Donnell, for gender discrimination and wrongful termination. In her suit, O’Donnell alleged that direct superior, Riot CEO Nicolo Laurent, had her fired after she reported him to human resources. The internal investigation conducted by the company cleared Laurent of any wrongdoing – however, with a clear and present need for impartial evaluation, the non-monetary provisions of this settlement are sorely needed.
Beyond the gesture of payment and the promise of reformation, what is especially significant is the statement released by Riot in conjunction with the settlement.
“Three years ago, Riot was at the heart of what became a reckoning in our industry. We had to face the fact that despite our best intentions, we hadn’t always lived up to our values. As a company we stood at a crossroads; we could deny the shortcomings of our culture, or we could apologize, correct course, and build a better Riot. We chose the latter. We’re incredibly grateful to every Rioter who has worked to create a culture where inclusivity is the norm, where we’re deeply committed to fairness and equality, and where embracing diversity fuels creativity and innovation.
While we’re proud of how far we’ve come since 2018, we must also take responsibility for the past. We hope that this settlement properly acknowledges those who had negative experiences at Riot and demonstrates our desire to lead by example in bringing more accountability and equality to the games industry.”
While this may be lip service, it may also not be. It is, ultimately, a public statement taking a certain measure of responsibility for its mistakes – and however superficial or heartfelt it might be, it’s still worth celebrating. Given the track record of companies like Activision Blizzard, it’s huge.
“This is a great day for the women of Riot Games – and for women at all video game and tech companies – who deserve a workplace that is free of harassment and discrimination,” said Genie Harrison of the decision, and the lawyer for the plaintiffs couldn’t be more right. If they hold true to the terms of the settlement, unlike Activision Blizzard, they could be the new standard bearers for workplace equality in an industry biting off its own nose to spite its face.
If Riot Games can truly hold themselves to the letter of their own statement, and carry on with some measure of integrity – and perhaps journalists like me can finally take a break from writing articles such as this one to try and hold them to account.
Liz Carlie (she/her/he/him) is a regular book, TV, and film reviewer for SCIFI.radio and has previously been a guest on ‘The Event Horizon’. In addition to being an active member of the traditional fandom community, she’s also an active participant in online fan culture, pro wrestling journalism, and spreading the gospel of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She resides in Southern California with her aspiring superhero dog, Junior, enjoying life one hyperfixation at a time.