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Riot Games, the West Los Angeles-based group behind “League of Legends,” saw a key change in a harassment lawsuit of its own earlier this week, and its response differed greatly from Activision Blizzard’s, which is fighting its own discrimination cases.
The lawsuit against Riot was filed back in 2018 by two former female workers who claimed Riot violated several state acts that are supposed to protect workers from sex-based discrimination.
The women are represented by workplace litigator and women’s rights attorney Genie Harrison, a legal powerhouse who’s taken on Hollywood’s most prominent sex offenders, Harvey Weinstein. She’s arguing her clients were paid less for the same work as male colleagues based on their gender.
Riot originally agreed to a $10 million settlement, but back in 2020, I reported for TheWrap that others thought that number should be much higher, maybe as much as $400 million. The DFEH –aka the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, the same agency that’s breathing down Activision’s neck – also objected, saying that settlement was too low.
Riot disagreed with the bigger payout but didn’t dig its heels in. In December the $100 million figure was determined, pending court approval, which Axios reported happened this week. Any woman who worked at the company between November 2014 and December 2021 would be entitled to a portion of that settlement.
(If you’re reading this and a woman who worked for Riot during that time, you might want to contact the attorneys).
Riot declined to add a new comment, instead pointing to the December statement made by CEO Nicolo Laurent:
“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.”
This mea culpa is certainly not the tone we’ve heard from Activision in recent months. But it should be.
Discrimination still runs rampant at largely male-dominated video game companies, especially those that make their home in L.A. The original report about misconduct at Riot prompted a litany of similar stories to surface at other developers such as “Assassin’s Creed” maker Ubisoft and, of course, Activision.
Activision is also caught in an avalanche of lawsuits from former employees and state watchdogs that are all looking to hold its leadership — in particular CEO Bobby Kotick — accountable. There are numerous reports that Kotick ran a company where women were the brunt of egregious sexual harassment and a “frat boy” culture.
Both local gaming firms had beef with the same government agency but each chose a pretty different tack when it came to negotiating with it. While Riot decided to cop to its mistakes, pay the fines and rethink its corporate culture, Activision doubled down and got petty. It asked for the case to be dismissed and feuded with both the state DFEH and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). It settled an $18 million discrimination case with the EEOC in February.
The “Call of Duty” publisher fired shots at the DFEH for objecting to that settlement, and claimed the DFEH’s requests to see police records on Kotick and the company had “no legitimate purpose.” Every step of the way, Activision’s refused to accept responsibility, wasting the time of courts and victims…to say nothing of financial reparations.
Laurent said this January instead of spending “tens of millions” on lawyers to fight what was probably an inevitable verdict, he’d rather use the funds to pay out women in the class and “invest in Riot’s future.”
If Activision had taken that position, it might already be on to rectifying some of the damage caused to its workers and making its way out of the labyrinth of lawsuits. That way it could focus on more pressing events, like employees pushing to unionize while it works to complete its $69 billion sale to Microsoft. – Samson Amore
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What We’re Reading Elsewhere...
- Former employees at TikTok's parent company accuse it of pushing pro-China content to consumers.
- The Washington Post looks at the birth of Riot Games' "Valorant" esports league.
- Robots are picking strawberries in Central California.
- The NFL gets into the streaming wars with its NFL-Plus channel.
- L.A.-based Resecurity acquires an Emirati cybersecurity startup.