Update as on 6 May, 2019: Riot Games announced early Friday that they will soon start giving new employees the option to opt-out of some mandatory arbitration requirements when they are hired. The catch – The arbitration will initially narrowly focused on a specific set of employees for a specific set of causes.
Riot games employees are planning to walkout in protest of the company’s sexist culture and lack of diversity. Riot has been in the spotlight since Kotaku published a detailed report highlighting how five current and former Riot employees filed lawsuits against the company citing the sexist culture that fosters in Riot. Out of the five employees, two were women.
Per Kotaku, last Thursday, Riot filed a motion to force two of those women, whose lawsuits revolved around the California Equal Pay Act, into private arbitration. 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. Private arbitration makes these employees less likely to win against Riot.
In November last year, 20,000 Google employees along with Temps, Vendors, and Contractors walked out to protest the discrimination, racism, and sexual harassment encountered at Google’s workplace. This Walkout lead to Google ending forced arbitration for its full-time employees. Google employees are also organizing a phone drive, in a letter published on Medium, to press lawmakers to legally end forced arbitration. Per the Verge, “The employees are organizing a phone bank for May 1st and asking for people to make three calls to lawmakers — two to the caller’s senators and one to their representative — pushing for the FAIR Act, which was recently reintroduced in the House of Representatives.”
We've teamed up with @PipelineParity to organize nationwide phone banks to drive a deluge of calls to Congress on May 1 in support of the #FAIRAct. Take 3 min to make 3 calls on Wed May 1. Find everything you need at https://t.co/w4p7OOAsZl. #EndForcedArbitration #FAIRPhoneBank pic.twitter.com/vUQb8TK966
— End Forced Arbitration (@endforcedarb) April 29, 2019
Following Google, Facebook also made changes to its forced arbitration policy for sexual harassment claims
Not only sexual harassment, game developers also undergo unfair treatment in terms of work conditions, job instability, and inadequate pay. In February, The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), published an open letter on Kotaku. The letter urges the video game industry workers to unionize and voice their support for better treatment within the workplace.
Following this motion, Riot employees have organized to walkout in protest demanding Rio leadership to end force arbitration against the two current employees. This walkout is planned for Monday, May 6. An internal document from Riot employees as seen by Kotaku describes the demands laid out by walkout organizers
- a clear intention to end forced arbitration,
- a precise deadline (within 6 months) by which to end it
- a commitment to not force arbitration on the women involved in the ongoing litigations against Riot.
Riot’s sexist culture and lack of diversity
The investigation conducted by Kotaku last year unveiled some major flaws in Riot’s culture and in gaming companies, in general. Over 28 current and former Riot employees, spoke to Kotaku with stories that echoed of Riot’s female employees being treated unfairly and being on the receiving end of gender discrimination.
An employee named Lucy told Kotaku that on thinking of hiring a woman in the leadership role she heard plenty of excuses for why her female job candidates weren’t Riot material. Some were “ladder climbers.” Others had “too much ego.” Most weren’t “gamer enough.” A few were “too punchy,” or didn’t “challenge convention”, she told Kotaku. She also shared her personal experiences facing discrimination. Often her manager would imply that her position was a direct result of her appearance. Every few months, she said, a male boss of hers would comment in public meetings about how her kids and husband must really miss her while she was at work.
Women are often told they don’t fit in the company’s ‘bro culture’; an astonishing eighty percent of Riot employees are men, according to data Riot collected from employees’ driver’s licenses. “The ‘bro culture’ there is so real,” said one female source to Kotaku, who said she’d left the company due to sexism. “It’s agonizingly real. It’s like working at a giant fraternity.” Among other people Kotaku interviewed, stories were told on how women were being groomed for promotions, and doing jobs above their title and pay grade, until men were suddenly brought in to replace them. Another women told Kotaku, “how a colleague once informed her, apparently as a compliment, that she was on a list getting passed around by senior leaders detailing who they’d sleep with.” Two former employees also added that they “felt pressure to leave after making their concerns about gender discrimination known.”
Many former Riot employees also refused to come forward to share their stories and refrained from participating in the walkout. For some, this was in fear of retaliation from Riot’s fanbase; Riot is the creator of the popular game League of Legends. Others told that they were restricted from talking on the record because of non-disparagement agreements they signed before leaving the company.
The walkout threat spread far enough that it prompted a response from Riot’s chief diversity officer, Angela Roseboro, in the company’s private Slack over the weekend reports Waypoint. In a copy of the message obtained by Waypoint, Roseboro says“ We’re also aware there may be an upcoming walkout and recognize some Rioters are not feeling heard. We want to open up a dialogue on Monday and invite Rioters to join us for small group sessions where we can talk through your concerns, and provide as much context as we can about where we’ve landed and why. If you’re interested, please take a moment to add your name to this spreadsheet. We’re planning to keep these sessions smaller so we can have a more candid dialogue.”
Riot CEO Nicolo Laurent also acknowledged the talk of a walkout in a statement “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 with Rioters 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 Rioter feedback, which are both important parts of evaluating all of our procedures and policies, including those related to arbitration.”
Tech worker union, Game workers unite, Googlers for ending forced arbitration have stood up in solidarity with Riot employees. “Forced arbitration clauses are designed to silence workers and minimize the options available to people hurt by these large corporations”
“Forced arbitration clauses are designed to silence workers and minimize the options available to people hurt by these large corporations."
We stand with the Rioters organizing themselves to speak truth to power. ✊🏾✊🏿✊https://t.co/m5xd1hlSja
— Game Workers Unite ✊🏿✊🏽✊🏾 (@GameWorkers) April 29, 2019
— End Forced Arbitration (@endforcedarb) April 29, 2019
“Employees at Riot Games are considering a walkout, and the organization efforts has prompted an internal response from company executives”, tweeted Coworker.org
"Employees at Riot Games are considering a walkout, and the organization efforts has prompted an internal response from company executives": https://t.co/TJ1cxqO0pf #ForcedArbitration #EndForcedArbitration
— Coworker.org (@teamcoworker) April 29, 2019
Others have also joined in support.
Please support Riot workers who are planning this walkout, as well as their efforts to change their workplace in general. Please don’t write their struggles off because they work on LoL. pic.twitter.com/a8Oc8j2MGZ
— Winston Commits Tax Fraud (@theminolaur) April 29, 2019
There's a lot going on at Riot that can be described tamely as "a colossal garbage fire," i.e. forcing the women suing re: sexual harassment & gender discrimination into arbitration to silence them. Hopefully this walkout finally enacts tangible change. https://t.co/LmVS1MVkF5
— Simon M (@LuchaLibris) April 29, 2019
solidarity with everyone at riot right now. the immediate and obviously terrified response of management to rumours of a walkout is a clear demonstration of the power that worker organisation has! ✊ https://t.co/GL2bfsVTeP
— ☘ jess 🌸 (@floofyscorp) April 29, 2019