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Riot Games employees hold walkout over forced arbitration

In one of the first games industry walkouts, League of Legends studio employees protest studio policy in light of gender discrimination lawsuits

Today, a number of Riot Games employees have followed through on talk from last week of a walk-out at the company's Los Angeles studio.

The walkout, seemingly one of the first of its kind to occur in the games industry, is being held in response to the company's policy of forced arbitration that has been a part of employee contracts at the company in the past. This came to a head recently when Riot insisted two of five current gender discrimination lawsuits against the company (occurring in the wake of a Kotaku report exposing a culture of sexism at the League of Legends studio) be moved to arbitration, saying the women had waived the right to sue when they were hired.

Following an outcry from employees and discussion of the walkout, Riot Games agreed to change its internal policy and allow employees to opt out of mandatory arbitration, but the change only applies to new, incoming employees and is not retroactive toward existing employees or those involved in the current legal battles.

Today's walkout, though tied in with other issues of company culture troubles, is primarily focused on the arbitration clause according to an FAQ document shared publicly online about the event. The document maintains that the walkout is an "anti-policy" event, not "anti-Riot," and is organized entirely by current employees of Riot Games without input from past employees.

"We are calling for Riot leaders to end forced arbitration in cases of harassment and discrimination in all past, current, and future contracts for all employees, including contractors," reads the FAQ. "This includes withdrawing the motion for forced arbitration in active suits.

"I love Riot and am proud of many of the steps taken so far to improve our culture, but it's not yet enough"

JT Vandenbree

"Regarding active litigation: we stand with the plaintiffs currently affected by this policy, and we believe Riot can & should ensure they have the right to choose to go to court. These folks have been brave enough to come forward and tell their stories and jeopardize their reputations & their careers. Riot's choice to enforce this policy in their cases sparked this conversation. We hope Rioters will show up and lend them our support. Withdrawing the motion for forced arbitration for these folks isn't just possible, it's the right thing to do.

"We have been promised a few times that things will get better moving forward. We need a firm commitment to when "moving forward" will happen. The D&I timeline presented today does some work on contextualizing that, but doesn't address the issue at hand. Current Rioters are actively being forced into arbitration, and while we have been given unclear answers as to why due to open litigation, leadership has committed to continue to deny them the right to choose."

The walkout, which began earlier this afternoon and which according to Kotaku saw over 150 Riot employees and other supporters attend, has been live-tweeted and shared by a number of current Riot Games employees, who took to social media to express their feelings about the necessity of the event. Many of them expressed love for the company, but frustration about the particular issue of forced arbitration.

"I will be participating in the #riotwalkout today to protest against leadership's use of forced arbitration in cases of discrimination and sexual harassment," tweeted associate esports manager, college, JT Vandenbree. "I love Riot and am proud of many of the steps taken so far to improve our culture, but it's not yet enough."

"Today myself and several of my co-workers are standing up for what is right, just, and fair in regards to Forced Arbitration and Sexual Harassment," said Mel Capperino-Garcia, associate program manager, influencers. "It's 2019, and forcing anyone to sit in a room with the company/person who did this and 'talk it out' is unacceptable.

"Clearly I love this place. It's in my user name on most platforms. It's part of who I am. That being said, the place I love is BETTER than this. Riot and the people who work here are better than these stupid policies. I want it to get better, and show my support."

"It's 2019, and forcing anyone to sit in a room with the company/person who did this and 'talk it out' is unacceptable"

Mel Capperino-Garcia

Editor Laura Michet also had a hopeful tone. "I am participating in the #riotwalkout today. It should not be legal to force workers into arbitration when they suffer sexual harassment -- or any other discrimination, really. It's already not legal in several states. I'd like my company to be on the cutting edge of this issue!!"

Some, like contractor Brock Wilbur, remained optimistic while also mentioning the Kotaku report that instigated the changes at Riot. "Riot is a company full of great friends who are trying their best. Institutional change comes from within and I'm proud of each and every one of them. Also, this is a good time to recognize journalists like Cecilia D'Anastasio who dragged said reckoning into the light."

Others, like game designer Alex Jaffe, expressed a mix of solidarity with the walkout and support for Riot's overtures to improve the company's culture since the report. "Honestly: I'm proud of Riot's improvements to D&I this last year. But we need to keep going. I'm walking out today to support ending forced arbitration for all Riot workers - particularly in cases of discrimination, harassment, and abuse."

Director of insights Davin Pavlas shared that view. "Attending #riotwalkout later today with complex feelings. So much good work has been done in the space over the last year. I'm grateful for the progress but know Riot needs to do better and be more proactive.

"Some of the critiques leveraged against the company feel unreasonable or unfair to me, others entirely correct. All come from a place of genuine hurt, and we owe it to each other to be kind, listen, and do the work of improving. Solidarity first and foremost."

Around the gaming industry, other non-Riot employees also tweeted their solidarity with the movement, including Vlambeer's Rami Ismail. "History being written and the future being changed," he wrote. "I applaud the #riotwalkout today, and those taking risks to gain a collective seat at the table that defines their workplace. It shows with emphasis that our industry can not go back to ignoring the workers."

Narrative designer Meg Jayanth, who recently opened the IGDAs at the 2019 Game Developers' Conference with a speech about rejecting hate and encouraging industry unionization, also weighed in. "Solidarity with everyone in the #RiotWalkout - they are demanding to be treated with fairness and humanity, which we all deserve"

And notice was taken outside the industry as well. At the time of this posting, #RiotWalkout is currently No.7 in the top US trends on Twitter. And Liz Shuler, the secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), the largest federation of US unions, expressed her support too.

"Never forget: you're not alone. You deserve a safe workplace, and you have countless brothers and sisters ready to fight alongside you"

Liz Shuler

"Proudly in solidarity with everyone joining together for today's #RiotWalkout," she said. "Never forget: you're not alone. You deserve a safe workplace, and you have countless brothers and sisters ready to fight alongside you."

Game Workers Unite issued an official statement of solidarity, which can be read in full here.

"The several thousand members of Game Workers Unite International are proud to stand in solidarity with you as you speak out against injustice in your workplace and take a stand to demand the end of forced arbitration in cases of harassment and discrimination, a practice designed to protect companies and silence workers," reads a portion of the statement.

"While participating in the first walkout in the game industry may feel scary and uncertain, know that your struggle at Riot does not exist in a vacuum. You are not alone. There exists a long and storied history of people, regular people, fighting fights just like yours in the game, tech, and entertainment industries. Today you build upon that foundation laid by countless workers before you who refused to accept things as they were and built a better world. Today you carry that movement forward.

"In the years ahead, as the movement to improve the lives of workers in the game industry continues to grow, we will all look back on the day Rioters (a fitting name given the daily courage and determination you display) walked out as the first strong and confident step towards ending our industry's culture of harassment and worker exploitation."

In a statement to Variety, Riot Games management promised to make accommodations to allow the walkout and stated that the company would not retaliate.

"While we will not make a change to our policies while in active litigation, last Thursday we announced that we've made the call to pivot our approach. As soon as active litigation is resolved, we will give all new Rioters the choice to opt-out of mandatory arbitration for individual sexual harassment and sexual assault claims. At that time, we will also commit to have a firm answer on potentially expanding the scope and extending this opt-out to all Rioters. We are working diligently to resolve all active litigation so that we can quickly take steps toward a solution.

"As we have been for the past week, we will continue to listen to Rioters regarding their thoughts on arbitration and we're thankful for everyone that has taken the time to meet with leadership about this issue."

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