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8th July 2021

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Riot Games pushes for arbitration in gender discrimination lawsuit

Update: Riot Games argued that arbitration will allow the studio to "reach a fair and speedy resolution to these cases"

Original story, January 29, 2021: Riot Games is once again seeking individual arbitration in the class action lawsuit opposing the studio to former employees accusing it of gender discrimination and sexual harassment.

This would take the case out of the court, with a neutral arbitrator attempting to settle the dispute between the parties. The women involved in the lawsuit would also need to file individual arbitration actions.

Riot Games already attempted to move the case to private arbitration hearings back in April 2019, arguing that the women involved in the lawsuit had signed arbitration clauses with Riot when they were hired.

As we highlighted back then, private arbitration is a controversial practice, especially when it comes to sexual harassment cases, as it tends to be less favourable to the plaintiffs than legal proceedings.

Shortly after, Riot employees threatened to walk out, which led the studio to drop the mandatory arbitration.

The plaintiffs' counsel, Genie Harrison, who took over the case in February 2020, said in a statement that Riot's latest move comes as the company realises it "can't settle the case on the cheap" and that getting into arbitration would prevent "the women from fighting together as a group against the company."

She continued: "If Riot succeeds, it will pay a private judge huge amounts of money to decide the fate of the women's claims. And all that will happen in secret, with Riot's discriminatory conduct hidden from the public."

The class action lawsuit was filed in November 2018 followed a lengthy exposé from Kotaku about Riot's toxic culture, including gender discrimination and sexual harassment.

A preliminary settlement between the parties would have seen the former Riot employees receive $10 million. However, following an intervention by the Department of Fair employment and Housing, this figure could climb to over $400 million.

Update, February 1, 2021: In a statement sent to GamesIndustry.biz, Riot Games said that arbitration will allow the studio to "reach a fair and speedy resolution to these cases" and that it is "willing to engage in constructive dialogue to bring these matters to resolution as quickly as possible -- so long as the resolution is grounded in the facts of these cases."

The studio also clarified that, unlike some other arbitration agreements, theirs doesn't include confidentially clauses, meaning the plaintiffs are free to discuss the situation as they would in court, and that there will be no cap on total potential damages awarded.

Here's the full statement provided by Riot:

"On Monday [January 25] our Motion to Compel was granted and our arbitration agreements were once again upheld by the court, as we were confident they would be. There were claims outside the scope of this motion which Riot never attempted to compel to arbitration, such as government and government-adjacent PAGA claims, which remain in court.

"This ruling will allow us to reach a fair and speedy resolution to these cases, some of which have already been pending for more than two years. We have always been, and will continue to be, willing to engage in constructive dialogue to bring these matters to resolution as quickly as possible -- so long as the resolution is grounded in the facts of these cases.

"Notably and unlike some arbitration agreements, the agreements between Riot and its employees have no confidentiality clauses, which means plaintiffs can talk about their suit in the same ways they could in court. In addition, both parties must agree on the arbitrator, who is typically a retired judge. Either party can reject an arbitrator -- for example, based on their history of past cases -- and the case will not proceed until a mutually agreeable arbitrator is selected.

"All of the same remedies available to individuals through a court trial are available through arbitration, which means there is no cap on total potential damages awarded, or the types of damages awarded.

"Over the last two-and-a-half years, we've established new and updated policies and programs to promote inclusion in day-to-day life at Riot and help rebuild trust, increased diversity in our leadership team and across the company, continued to take action to ensure we are equitable to all Rioters, and established new recruiting and hiring processes to better meet our goals and improve candidate experiences. While we know we still have work to do, we're confident in the strides we've made towards our ultimate goal of becoming the most inclusive company in gaming. We pledged early on to be transparent about our progress and more details on our progress can be found in our latest diversity and inclusion progress report, an updated version of which will be released in the coming months as a new annual report."

Celebrating employer excellence in the video games industry

8th July 2021

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