Months after five current and former employees filed lawsuits last fall and earlier this year alleging gender discrimination against League of Legends publisher Riot Games, Riot yesterday made motions to force two of those women into private arbitration, which would prevent them from taking legal action. Riot’s argument is simple: Those women waived their rights to sue the company when they were hired.
In the motions, obtained by Kotaku today, Riot’s attorney explains that the women agreed to arbitration clauses, common parts of employment contracts that are designed to insulate corporations from legal scrutiny. Said clauses force staff to take their complaints to private arbitration, an extra-legal system without a jury or a judge, rather than pursuing legal action. In these instances, employees are much less likely to hold employers accountable for bad behavior. It’s a controversial practice that has been criticized recently: Over the last couple of months, Google, Facebook and Uber announced they would end their forced arbitration practices for harassment cases.
“There can be no dispute that Plaintiff agreed to arbitration,” one document obtained by Kotaku reads, going on to note that their “claims for discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, as well as for wages due, are expressly listed” in the arbitration agreement.
These lawsuits, and Riot’s latest legal move, follow a Kotaku investigation last August that detailed endemic sexism at the company, including in its hiring and promotion practices. In the months following our story, current and former Riot employees filed four different lawsuits, many alleging that the company violated the California Equal Pay Act. Also following our story, Riot has vowed to hold itself accountable and enact widespread cultural changes.
Ryan Saba, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs against Riot, told Kotaku in a phone interview this morning that he plans to fight the forced arbitration and that he believes there is precedent for obtaining a jury trial even when parties involved have signed arbitration clauses. In a press release yesterday, he wrote, “Today’s actions only serve to silence the voices of individuals who speak out against such misconduct and demonstrate that the company’s words were no more than lip service.”
When asked for comment, a Riot spokesperson sent over an e-mailed statement: “While we won’t discuss details about ongoing litigation, we look forward to resolving all matters through the appropriate processes.
“Our commitment to building and sustaining a world class, inclusive culture at Riot is unchanged and we value everyone who has come forward to help us become a better company. We have acknowledged that there are improvements we can make to our culture and community — we have made progress and are hyper-focused on continuing to do so. We have been evaluating all of our procedures and policies, including those related to arbitration. All of that work is well underway, and as we move forward, we will not hesitate to implement changes once we have thoughtfully assessed that these changes move us is the right direction for Riot and Rioters.”
Riot’s road to changing its culture has been rocky. After issuing a public apology several weeks after the initial report, Riot for months retained several of the men accused of sexual harassment or sexism in repeated complaints to the company. COO Scott Gelb, whom several sources say “ball-tapped,” farted on or humped employees, remains in his position after a two-month unpaid suspension and training.
Riot also says it has been evaluating its hiring and promotion practices, as well as working on diversity and inclusion. Last year, Riot contracted Frances Frei, a Harvard Business School professor tasked with cleaning up Uber’s alleged sexist culture. In February, Riot announced it had hired former head of diversity at Dropbox Angela Roseboro as its chief diversity officer. Riot has declined repeated requests for Kotaku to interview co-founders Marc Merrill and Brandon Beck about the company’s accountability process.