Cal­i­for­nia re­veals it’s in­ves­ti­gat­ing gen­der-dis­crim­i­nat­ing claims at Riot Games

Lodi News-Sentinel - - BUSINESS - By James F. Peltz

LOS AN­GE­LES — The scru­tiny of Riot Games Inc. over al­le­ga­tions of gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion and sex­ual ha­rass­ment at the “League of Leg­ends” video-game maker grew wider Wed­nes­day: Cal­i­for­nia reg­u­la­tors re­vealed they’re in­ves­ti­gat­ing the mat­ter as well.

The state De­part­ment of Fair Em­ploy­ment and Hous­ing, the agency that en­forces Cal­i­for­nia’s civil-rights laws, said it filed a court ac­tion de­mand­ing that the Los An­ge­les com­pany pro­vide it with em­ployee pay data.

The ac­tion, filed Wed­nes­day in Los An­ge­les County Su­pe­rior Court, was nec­es­sary be­cause Riot Games “has re­fused to pro­vide the de­part­ment with ad­e­quate in­for­ma­tion” for the agency “to an­a­lyze whether women are paid less than men at the com­pany,” the de­part­ment said.

It also said it wants the in­for­ma­tion “as part of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into al­leged un­equal pay, sex­ual ha­rass­ment, sex­ual as­sault, re­tal­i­a­tion and gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion in selec­tion and pro­mo­tion” at the com­pany.

Riot Games ex­pressed dis­ap­point­ment about the court ac­tion, say­ing it has been “co­op­er­at­ing in good faith with the de­part­ment to ad­dress its con­cerns” since the in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­gan in late Oc­to­ber.

“Dur­ing this time, we’ve promptly re­sponded to the DFEH’s re­quests and have pro­duced over 2,500 pages of doc­u­ments and sev­eral thou­sand lines of pay data so far,” Riot Games said in an emailed state­ment. “We’ve also made sev­eral re­cent re­quests that the DFEH par­tic­i­pate in a call with us to ad­dress their re­quests,” it said, but “these re­quests have been unan­swered.”

Sim­i­lar ac­cu­sa­tions by cur­rent and former em­ploy­ees have em­broiled Riot Games in re­cent months. More than 200 work­ers walked out of Riot’s head­quar­ters last month to protest what they de­scribed as a cul­ture of sex­ism at the com­pany and its han­dling of sex­ual-dis­crim­i­na­tion law­suits.

The De­part­ment of Fair Em­ploy­ment and Hous­ing “has broad au­thor­ity to in­ves­ti­gate po­ten­tial vi­o­la­tions of Cal­i­for­nia’s civil rights laws sim­i­lar to grand jury pro­ceed­ings,” de­part­ment Direc­tor Kevin Kish said in a state­ment.

"When com­pa­nies fail to co­op­er­ate vol­un­tar­ily with our in­ves­ti­ga­tions, in­clud­ing with our in­ves­tiga­tive dis­cov­ery, (the de­part­ment) will ex­er­cise its right to seek as­sis­tance from the courts,” he said.

A divi­sion of the Chi­nese in­ter­net gi­ant Ten­cent Hold­ings Ltd., Riot Games was founded in 2006 and has be­come a ma­jor player in gam­ing and es­ports, with 2,500 em­ploy­ees — whom it calls “Riot­ers” — and $2.1 bil­lion in rev­enue in 2017.

Af­ter The Times and other me­dia out­lets last year pointed to a cul­ture of sex­ism and ha­rass­ment against women at the com­pany, Riot Games said it would change its cul­ture with the help of con­sul­tants, re­struc­tured its hu­man-re­sources sys­tems and changed the com­po­si­tion of its board.

Riot Games also has said it has a “zero-tol­er­ance pol­icy on dis­crim­i­na­tion, ha­rass­ment, re­tal­i­a­tion, bul­ly­ing and gen­eral tox­i­c­ity.”

But in the fol­low­ing months, five cur­rent and former em­ploy­ees filed law­suits against Riot Games, al­leg­ing vi­o­la­tions of the Cal­i­for­nia Equal Pay Act as well as gen­der-based dis­crim­i­na­tion, re­tal­i­a­tion and ha­rass­ment.

The com­pany in April filed mo­tions to move two of the suits into ar­bi­tra­tion, rather than a trial. It said the plain­tiffs had signed ar­bi­tra­tion clauses when they were hired, a move that fur­ther an­gered the em­ploy­ees and helped lead to the protest last month.

The week af­ter the protest, Riot Games said that it would still re­quire em­ploy­ees to go through ar­bi­tra­tion, but that it did not rule out al­low­ing al­ter­na­tives to ar­bi­tra­tion in the fu­ture af­ter the cur­rent lit­i­ga­tion is con­cluded.

“We are work­ing dili­gently to re­solve all on­go­ing lit­i­ga­tion, so that we can quickly take steps to­ward a so­lu­tion that more Riot­ers feel good about,” the com­pany said in a blog post May 3.

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