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Developers cut ties with Lab Zero, accuse lead designer of abuse, harassment

Skullgirls IP holder will work with former employees on future Skullgirls content without Mike Zaimont or Lab Zero

A number of Lab Zero employees have announced their departure from the Skullgirls and Indivisible studio, accusing lead designer Mike Zaimont of abusive and inappropriate behavior and citing his actions as the reason for their resignation.

In a Twitter post, senior animator Jonathan Kim wrote that issues with Zaimont began to come to light throughout 2020, as Lab Zero began working toward becoming a fully employee-owned company.

As one step in that process, Kim said, full ownership of the company was transferred to Zaimont, with the intent that he would facilitate the process of giving all employees full equity.

However, before that could take place, Zaimont was involved in multiple public incidents that drew negative attention to the studio, including Zaimont making a racially insensitive joke on stream during the height of Black Lives Matter protests and, a few weeks later, multiple public accusations that he made inappropriate and demeaning sexual remarks toward women, resulting in him being banned from commentating several upcoming fighting game tournaments.

Kim's account continued that following this second incident, employees at Lab Zero began discussing their own experiences with Zaimont as well, and found that many had experienced similar behavior.

"Almost every employee had a story where Mike abused his position of power to put his coworkers in uncomfortable stressful situations for years, which include: frequently mentioning his genitals, forcing unwanted physical contact, making sexual comments about himself or about employee's bodies, insulting coworkers privately or in front of other coworkers, or using very personal details to threaten or demean coworkers when they didn't go along with what he wanted or act in a way he wished," Kim wrote.

"Mike covered up his behavior by doing kind things, so when people would question him about his bad actions, he would cite his previous good deeds as reasons for why he's allowed to do bad ones."

Kim closed his statement by saying that the team had tried to resolve matters with Zaimont through July and August, but that Zaimont had used "intimidating and potentially retaliatory tactics" and gave the Lab Zero team until August 31 to leave if they were unhappy.

Art producer Brian Jun also resigned, and corroborated Kim's story with his own account in a separate Twitter post.

Jun added that Zaimont had initially agreed to work with Lab Zero to find a way to depart the company, but demanded "unrealistically high and even potentially illegal" terms for his departure, before finally refusing to leave and removing all members of the company board.

Other developers who spoke up on Twitter included artist and animator Mariel Cartwright, who shared her own account of Zaimont sexually harassing her and who is also resigning from the company, and Brandon Sheffield, who worked with Lab Zero on Indivisible and explained why he cut ties with the studio earlier this year following the initial round of public accusations.

Following these accusations, last night Skullgirls IP owner and publisher Autumn Games and Skullgirls Mobile developer Hidden Variable Studios released a joint statement in support of the employees who had departed and brought forward accusations against Zaimont, stating they would no longer work with Lab Zero Games.

"Skullgirls, in all its forms, has been a product of years and years of effort from dozens of dedicated developers, artists, designers, and more," the statement reads. "As such, Hidden Variable and Autumn are committed to investing in the ongoing development of Skullgirls without the involvement of Lab Zero or Mike Zaimont. We plan to work with the many talented individuals who are leaving Lab Zero to build new Skullgirls content moving forward."

GamesIndustry.biz has reached out to Zaimont for comment, but did not receive a response in time for publication.

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