Former Riot Games employee Sharon O’Donnell has filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the company and its CEO Nicolo Laurent, who she alleges asked her to "'cum' over to his house while his wife was away," discussed his underwear size with her, and told her "that his wife was jealous of beautiful women," according to a copy of the complaint obtained by VICE Games.
O’Donnell was a Laurent's executive assistant at Riot Games and the company fired her in July 2020, according to the lawsuit, which was filed last month in the Superior Court for the State of California in Los Angeles county.
“Shortly after Plaintiff was hired the Defendant Laurent began a pattern of harassing Plaintiff based on her sex or gender. This continued until the end of her employment," the lawsuit states. The alleged harassment included Laurent commenting on O’Donnell’s physical appearance, telling her to be more feminine and to watch her tone, telling female employees to handle Covid stress by having children, “telling Plaintiff that he really was a size extra-large but that he just liked a ‘tight fit,’” putting his arm around her and asking her to travel with him, asking her if she “could handle him when they were alone at his house,” and "telling Plaintiff she should 'cum' over to his house while his wife was away thereby implying they should have sex," the suit states.
“Plaintiff refused to ‘cum’ over to the Defendant Laurent's house,” according to the lawsuit.
According to the lawsuit, when O'Donnell refused Laurent’s alleged advances she was punished at work and eventually fired. O’Donnell alleged that she was not paid for all the hours she worked, including overtime, and was not given meal breaks.
Riot Games told VICE that it is investigating the claims but that for the moment Laurent continues to work as normal.
"In this case, because some of the claims relate to an executive leader, a special committee of our Board of Directors is overseeing the investigation, which is being conducted by an outside law firm," a Riot Games spokesperson told VICE Games in a statement. "Our CEO has pledged his full cooperation and support during this process, and we're committed to ensuring that all claims are thoroughly explored and appropriately resolved."
"One subject we can address immediately is the plaintiff's claim about their separation from Riot. The plaintiff was dismissed from the company over seven months ago based on multiple well-documented complaints from a variety of people," the spokesperson added. "Any suggestion otherwise is simply false."
After this story was published, Riot Games also reached out with additional comment. "To clarify, this individual was terminated following more than a dozen complaints from both employees and external partners and after multiple coaching discussions to try and address these concerns,” a Riot spokesperson said.
The lawyer representing O’Donnell did not immediately respond to a request for comment. After this article was published, O’Donnell’s lawyer sent the following statement: "Ms. ODonnell strongly denies that her wrongful termination had anything to do with complaints made by employees or external partners. She alleges that she was never made aware of any such complaints. Nor was there any “coaching”. Instead, there were sexist comments made about her “tone”. She alleges that she was wrongfully terminated because she refused to give in to Nicholas Laurent’s sexual overtures. She also alleges that she was also wrongfully terminated because she was a strong woman in a male dominated sexist company where women are devalued. She looks forward to proving her case."
O'Donnell's lawsuit fits a pattern of behavior at Riot Games that’s been a problem for years. In 2018, Kotaku reported on the stifling culture of sexual discrimination at the company. In May 2019, more than 100 Riot employees walked out to protest its use of forced arbirtraion to settle sexual harassment lawsuits.
In December 2019, The Los Angeles Times reported Riot Games would pay $10 million to settle a gender discrimination lawsuit filed on behalf of the companies 1,000 female employees. However, that settlement fell through after two California state agencies—the Department of Fair Employment (DFEH) and Housing and the Department of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE)—objected to the settlement.
The plaintiffs hired new lawyers who withdrew the proposed settlement and the case continued. Riot tried to compel six of the seven women plaintiffs to arbitration and, on January 25, the court ordered six of them to individual arbitration. The seventh plaintiff will be allowed to make her case in court, including the class claims, and is doing so. The DFEH and DLSE’s claims against Riot are also moving forward in the same case.
"Riot Games is a male dominated culture. Female employees, including Plaintiff are discriminated against, harassed and treated as second class citizens. There are very few female executives at Riot,” the lawsuit said.
In July 2020, Laurent wrote an open letter to other CEOs and leaders in the games industry, explaining where the company made mistakes in the past and how it plans to fix these issues in the future.
"As I write this, I'm thankful we made sufficient progress that the board kept me on. But more importantly, I'm proud of the Riot we have become, and that we continue to evolve every day," Laurent wrote at the time.
Correction: This story was updated to note a gender discrimination lawsuit against Riot Games is in individual arbitration.