Human Resources News & Insights

Gaming company’s ‘bro culture’ sparks gender discrimination lawsuit

Two women are suing “League of Legends” video game developer Riot Games for discrimination, harassment, and violation of the California Equal Pay Act. 

In McCracken v. Riot Games, one current and one former employee of the company seek class action status for the suit, alleging that Riot denies women equal pay and limits their career advancement due specifically to their gender. The proposed class includes hundreds of current and former female Riot Games employees located across California.

The ex-employee claims she was not compensated for taking on extra work after her supervisor left the company. And, she says, when the company went looking for a replacement for her former boss, they interviewed three men but never gave her a chance to interview.

The current employee alleges illegal discrimination against women, saying her supervisor would only consider woman for junior positions, because he was uncomfortable with men having to do those jobs. When he took over as head of her new department after she’d transferred out of her original job, she says she was told she “had a target on her back,” and should look for another transfer or be fired.

Toxic “bro” culture

The women believe that the “bro culture” at Riot Games arises out of its focus on hiring hardcore gamers, many of whom are teenage boys. That focus, the plaintiffs say, translates into an unwritten policy and practice of discriminating against women. As a result 80% of Riot’s 2,500 employees are male.

The legal battle was launched following an investigative report into Riot’s “toxic culture” by gaming news and review site Kontaku. Following the report, the company issued a public apology and pledged to improve its efforts to ensure an environment of “Inclusivity, diversity, respect, and equality.”

The suit says the company continues to permit sexual harassment, misconduct and bias that create a negative work environment for women and continues to retaliate against women who report misconduct.

The lawsuit filed in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Los Angeles seeks all “underpaid” wages due to the plaintiffs and punitive damages.

Time for self-assessment

The tech industry’s workforce has been dominated by men from the beginning and has recently been especially hard hit by claims of sexism. But every employer needs to take “Inclusivity, diversity, respect, and equality” very seriously and look hard at its own culture for signs of toxicity.

Behavior that has been viewed as “boys being boys” can spill over into discrimination and harassment complaints even if the objectional acts or speech are not specifically aimed at workers of another gender. And, as this case shows, when “bro culture” spills over into hiring and promotion practices, the potential legal and financial consequences can be huge.

Cite: McCracken et al. v. Riot Games et al., Dist. Crt. of CA, C.D.,  No. 18stcv03957, 11/5/17.

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