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League of Legends maker Riot Games is sued for gender-based discrimination

One current and one former employee are suing Riot Games in a class-action lawsuit citing gender-based discrimination, sexual harassment, and unequal pay. The lawsuit was first reported by Kotaku. Accusations against Riot Games, which is best-known for making League of Legends, first arose in a Kotaku investigative feature from three months ago that included complaints from dozens of employees.

Riot Games responded in a statement to The Verge: “While we do not discuss the details of ongoing litigation, we can say that we take every allegation of this nature seriously and investigate them thoroughly. We remain committed to a deep and comprehensive evolution of our culture to ensure Riot is a place where all Rioters thrive.” The company also provided a link to its progress timeline.

The lawsuit further details some of the sexist conditions first described by the Kotaku piece, including unfair hiring practices that favor men, meetings where men’s voices are louder and more heard, and ongoing sexual harassment and misconduct. For instance, the lawsuit mentions “a female employee discovered an email chain discussing what it would be like to ‘penetrate her,’ in which a colleague added that she would be a good target to sleep with and not call again.”

Since the Kotaku report, Riot has responded with a statement on its website, still prominently displayed on the front page, saying that fixing its corporate culture is a “top priority.” But some executives accused in the original report remain employed, such as COO Scott Gelb, who is mentioned in the lawsuit as being accused of touching other employees’ genitalia and making uncomfortable comments to plaintiff Melanie McCracken. Other employees have since been let go, sources told Kotaku.

League of Legends Pop/Stars music video, featuring Ahri.
Image: Riot Games

Current employee McCracken has been working at Riot since 2013, while the other plaintiff Jessica Negrón worked at Riot from April 2015 to April 2017. The lawsuit alleges that both plaintiffs were “denied equal pay and found their careers stifled because they are women.” At Riot, the lawsuit alleges, its staff are known as “Rioters” who are supposed to be “core gamers” and the term “has a more nefarious meaning to its female employees. Specifically, the term ‘core gamer’ is an unwritten policy and practice of preferring men to women in the hiring, promotion, and compensation of its employees.”

At one point, as the lawsuit alleges, Riot co-founder Brandon Beck used the phrase “no doesn’t necessarily mean no” as a company slogan. When a male employee explained that it was a rape joke, he was later informed that his time at the company “was limited” and he had to leave shortly after. Although the suit doesn’t identify him by name, it’s likely referring to former Riot employee Barry Hawkins’ story, as detailed in his blog post.

Negrón, in particular, spoke up on Twitter in the days after the Kotaku piece, detailing her work toward gaining a promotion and how she had been doing the job of her former manager for less pay and without the title. The lawsuit alleges Negrón began working at Riot for $56,000 a year and had been doing the work of her former manager for nearly a year, a position that earned her old manager $160,000 a year. The job of content editor eventually went to Dillon Buckner, and Negrón was never interviewed for the position, according to the lawsuit.

Sona, a champion from League of Legends.
Image: Riot Games

The lawsuit details uncomfortable situations that McCracken found herself in, including having a manager that only promoted men and hired women to be assistants, as well as other male co-workers jokingly asking her why she was spreading photos of them at a strip club even though she had done no such thing. The suit also says that McCracken has been removed from making decisions over her products and is prevented from attending senior leadership meetings. “Despite Ms. McCracken’s hard work to achieve her promotion, it has been put on hold and her future with Riot Games is dire, at best,” the lawsuit states, “Ms. McCracken remains employed at Riot Games at the time of the filing of this lawsuit because she wants to see change be made to the unacceptable ‘bro culture’ at Riot Games.”

Both plaintiffs are suing for compensation and interest on unpaid wages and damages. The specific amount will be decided by trial in California.

Update November 6th, 7:50PM ET: This article has been updated with a statement from Riot Games.

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