Unequal Pay + Sexually-Hostile Workplace = Sex Discrimination (The Sequel)
 
 
 
 
 
 
Protecting Employee & Consumer Rights

Unequal Pay + Sexually-Hostile Workplace = Sex Discrimination (The Sequel)

We previously wrote in this column about the case against Riot Games, Inc., a multibillion dollar video game developer, with headquarters in Los Angeles, operating in 24 offices around the world and employing about 2,500 workers, 80% of them male. The facts of the case are as follows:

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Riot Games’ employees, Jessica Negron, Gina Cruz Rivera, Irina Crudu, Mayanna Berrin, and Jessica Seifert, sued their employer in a class action, alleging that female employees in the company were denied equal pay and denied promotion because they are women. They alleged being subjected to ongoing sexual harassment which was widespread in the sexually-hostile working environment.

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

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  • Requiring female employees to fulfill roles above their title and pay grade, while falsely promising them a promotion but ultimately hiring a man to fill the position, despite the female employee’s competence.
  • Male supervisors belittling female employees at staff meetings by comments such as “her kids and husband must really miss her while she was at work;” “she talks louder than she should;” “she’s shrill;” or “she should speak less.”
  • Women are made fun of and sexually objectified. There is an ongoing e-mail chain of “Riot Games Hottest Women Employees” which rates the “hotness” of each female on the list.
  • Women are required to participate and tolerate crude male humor which include offensive jokes about sex, defecation, masturbation, rape, and torture.
  • Riot Games states it will only hire “core gamers” defined as “hardcore video game fans.” Men are assumed to be core gamers, but women are assumed to not be core gamers or even gamers at all. Because this hiring practice unfairly favors men, many qualified women are not hired.
  • Female applicants and employees who are outspoken are considered “aggressive,” “too ambitious,” and “annoying.” Senior management emphasized the importance of hiring only “core gamers,” i.e., men, and if women are hired, they must be ‘quiet and will – literally and figuratively – “shut up and play the game.”’

Aside from being denied equal pay and promotions, female employees were allegedly exposed to ongoing sexual harassment and were retaliated against for speaking out. The hostile work environment consisted of:

  • Unsolicited and unwelcome pictures of male genitalia shown to employees from their bosses or colleagues.
  • A female employee was informed that she was on a list getting passed around by senior leaders detailing who they would sleep with.
  • Men telling jokes demeaning to women’s intellect or are sexually explicit.
  • Intentionally explaining ideas to women in a condescending or patronizing way (commonly known as “mansplaining”)
  • Punching, grabbing, and touching each other’s genitals as a form of a gag.
  • Mimicking women blatantly in front of them.
  • Telling stories on a daily basis about sexual conquests
  • Using their bodies to simulate “humping” another person.
  • A former male employee was allowed to remain in a position of leadership despite regularly making sexual comments in the workplace and drugging and raping another Riot Games’ employee.

In August 2019, a settlement was reached and Riot Games agreed to pay $10 million in damages. However, California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing asked the court to reject the settlement, stating that it grossly undercompensates class members by paying them $6 million to resolve claims that may be worth as much as $400 million. The settlement would also release Riot Games from liability for certain state labor code violations. Because of the objections, the proposed $10 million settlement was withdrawn and the original attorneys were replaced with new lawyers.

Litigation continued and the case and recently came to a settlement agreement where, this time, the employer agreed to pay $100 million to resolve the case. Of this, $80 million go to class members and $20 million go to legal fees. The company also agreed to change certain policies and practices, make full-time positions available to qualified class members, and, for three years, retain third-parties to conduct gender-equality analysis and monitor the company’s compliance with workplace protections.

The Law Offices of C. Joe Sayas, Jr. welcomes inquiries about this topic. All inquiries are confidential and at no-cost. 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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TAGS: California labor laws, civil rights, unequal pay, workplace sex discrimination
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