[COLUMN] Unequal Pay + Sexually Hostile Workplace = Gender Discrimination: The Sequel —

WE have previously written in this column about the case against Riot Games, Inc., a multi-billion dollar video game developer, headquartered in Los Angeles, operating in 24 offices around the world and employing approximately 2,500 workers, 80% of whom are men. The facts of the case are as follows:

Riot Games employees Jessica Negron, Gina Cruz Rivera, Irina Crudu, Mayanna Berrin and Jessica Seifert have sued their employer in a class action lawsuit alleging that the company’s employees were being denied equal pay and a promotion because they were women. They alleged that they were victims of ongoing sexual harassment that was prevalent in the sexually hostile work environment.

The lawsuit alleged that Riot Games was known for fostering “bro culture” – a culture of sexism and mistreatment of women. The lawsuit detailed several examples of “bro culture” at Riot Games, some of which included:

  • Requiring female employees to perform duties above their title and pay grade, while falsely promising them a promotion but ultimately hiring a male to fill the position, despite the employee’s competence .
  • Male supervisors belittle female employees at staff meetings with comments such as “she must really miss her kids and her husband while she was at work”; “she talks louder than she should” “she’s shrill;” or “she should talk less.”
  • Women are mocked and sexually objectified. There is an ongoing email chain of “Riot Games’ Hottest Employees” rating the “hotness” of each woman on the list.
  • Women are expected to participate in and tolerate crude male humor that includes offensive jokes about sex, defecation, masturbation, rape, and torture.
  • Riot Games says it will only hire “core gamers” defined as “die-hard video game fans”. Males are assumed to be core players, but females are assumed not to be core players or even players at all. Because this hiring practice unfairly favors men, many qualified women are not hired.
  • Candidates and employees who speak out are seen as “aggressive”, “too ambitious” and “boring”. Senior management stressed the importance of hiring only “core gamers”, i.e. men, and if women are hired, they must be “quiet and go – literally and figuratively – “shut up and play the game”.

In addition to being denied equal pay and promotions, the employees were allegedly exposed to ongoing sexual harassment and retaliation for speaking out. The hostile work environment consisted of:

  • Unsolicited and intrusive photos of male genitalia shown to employees by their bosses or colleagues.
  • An employee was told she was on a list distributed by senior executives detailing who she would sleep with.
  • Men tell intellectually degrading jokes to women or are sexually explicit.
  • Intentionally explaining ideas to women in a condescending or condescending manner (commonly known as “mansplaining”)
  • Hitting, grabbing and touching each other’s genitals as a form of gag.
  • Openly imitating the women in front of them.
  • Telling stories of sexual conquests on a daily basis
  • Using their body to simulate “hitting” another person.
  • A former male employee was allowed to remain in a leadership position after he regularly made sexual comments in the workplace and drugged and raped another Riot Games employee.

In August 2019, the parties reached a settlement, where Riot Games agreed to pay $10 million in damages. However, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing asked the court to reject the settlement, saying it grossly undercompensated class members by paying them $6 million to resolve claims worth up to $400 million. The settlement would also release Riot Games from liability for certain state labor code violations. Due to objections, the proposed $10 million settlement was withdrawn and the original attorneys were replaced with new attorneys.

The parties continued to litigate the case and recently reached a settlement agreement where the employer agreed to pay $100 million to resolve the case. Of that amount, $80 million goes to class members and $20 million to legal fees. The company also agreed to change certain policies and practices, to make full-time positions available to qualified members of the group and, for three years, to engage third parties to carry out gender equality analysis and monitor company compliance with workplace protections.

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The opinions, beliefs and views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and views of Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.

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The Law Offices of C. Joe Sayas, Jr. welcomes inquiries on this topic. All inquiries are confidential and free of charge. You can contact the office at (818) 291-0088 or visit www.joesayaslaw.com. [For more than 25 years, C. Joe Sayas, Jr., Esq. successfully recovered wages and other monetary damages for thousands of employees and consumers. He was named Top Labor & Employment Attorney in California by the Daily Journal, consistently selected as Super Lawyer by the Los Angeles Magazine, and is a past Presidential Awardee for Outstanding Filipino Overseas.]

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