In the wake of news that Riot Games is attempting to block two current employees from taking the company to court for alleged gender discrimination, some employees are threatening a walkout.
Over the last couple of months, five current and former Riot employees filed lawsuits against the League of Legends publisher alleging that it fosters a sexist workplace culture, originally reported and detailed in a 2018 Kotaku investigation. Last Thursday, Riot filed a motion to force two of those women, whose suits revolved around the California Equal Pay Act, into private arbitration. It’s a controversial practice that pushes complaints into an extra-legal system with no jury or judge. That makes it much less likely that employees can hold employers accountable for alleged wrongdoing. In their motions, Riot’s lawyer argues that these employees waived their rights to a jury trial when they signed arbitration agreements upon their hiring.
The walkout, planned for Monday, May 6, was sparked by some employees’ disappointment in what they consider to be conflicting messages from Riot’s leadership. According to one current employee, who asked to remain anonymous, some Riot workers have been considering a walkout for months, but the forced arbitration motions pushed them over the edge. Although Riot did issue a public apology several weeks after Kotaku’s initial report, bring on a new diversity lead and promise to rethink its hiring and promotion practices, the company kept several of the men accused of sexist or inappropriate behavior employed for months, including the company’s COO.
Additionally, the current employee said, “leadership consistently promised transparency/actions to be taken and then did not deliver on that promise. . . [Kotaku’s] most recent article about forced arbitration finally lit the spark and some folks decided to take action.”
Walkouts are nonviolent protests by a group of organized workers who stop working or leave the office as part of a statement expressing discontent with employers. It’s a risky move that can result in getting fired. An internal document from Riot employees describing the planned walkout explains that it will only occur if Riot leadership upholds their motion to force arbitration against the two current employees. Organizers are asking Riot to “express 1.) a clear intention to end forced arbitration, 2.) a precise deadline (within 6 months) by which to end it, and 3.) a commitment to not force arbitration on the women involved in the ongoing litigation against Riot,” the document reads. Earlier this year, Google’s employees planned a walkout to end forced arbitration for its employees, and months later, Google announced it would abide.
The walkout plan has circulated widely throughout Riot’s Los Angeles and international offices. In an e-mail, Riot told Kotaku, “We’re proud of our colleagues for standing up for what they believe in. We always want Rioters to have the opportunity to be heard, so we’re sitting down today to listen to their opinions and learn more about their perspectives on arbitration. We will also be discussing this topic during our biweekly all-company town hall on Thursday. Both are important forums for us to discuss our current policy and listen to feedback, which are important parts of evaluating all of our procedures and policies, including those related to arbitration.”
Four current Riot employees were unable to confirm how many of their colleagues will be participating in the walkout. Two expressed reticence about participating. According to one, who says she does not plan to join, “I don’t know the scale of the walkout, nor does anyone else I’ve spoken with, which is the primary reason I am not participating.” The employee notes that she also received a document designating the walkout’s terms, time and meeting place before continuing, “I think any worker organization is a good and healthy thing, so I support it whether or not I’m participating in.”
[Clarification—5:30 pm:] We’ve updated this article and its headline to clarify that Riot’s position would force employees to go into an arbitration process rather than to a jury trial, though that does not outright block employees from filing a suit against the company.