Content Warning: Discussion of sexual misconduct in the workplace.
Employees of Riot Games, the company behind League of Legends, walked out today to protest the company's use of forced arbitration to handle lawsuits regarding a high profile sexual harassment scandal.
"This is an action we intended specifically to target forced arbitration," Jocelyn Monahan, a social listening strategist at Riot Games and one of the organizers of the walkout, told VICE. "We’re asking forced arbitration be ended for all past, current, and future riot employees including contractors and also in current litigation."
“I am terrified to stand in front of you and demand change. But I will not apologize for the trembling of my hands or the wavering of my voice because I will not stand complicit in the face of injustice,” Ronnie Blackburn, an insights researcher at Riot said in a speech to her fellow employees. “Whether you are here to show your support, express your dissent, or simply discuss so that you can better understand the situation, this is a hard and scary thing to be a part of, so thank you. Thank you all for your courage here today.”
VICE first reported on the planned walkout on April 29. On May 3, Riot released a public statement that said the existing lawsuits would still go through arbitration, but that in the future employees could opt-out of forced arbitration for sexual harassment and assault claims.
“As soon as current 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,” Riot said in a statement published on its website. “At that time, we will also commit to have a firm answer around expanding the scope and extending this opt-out to all Rioters.”
But Riot employees still walked out today.
“We are asking Riot to fully end forced arbitration for past, current, and future Rioters, including contractors, and to withdraw its use in active litigation,” the organizers behind the walkout told VICE in an email. “We stand with the current plaintiffs, whose alleged abusers remain in leadership positions at Riot. Victims of harassment and discrimination should have the right to choose how to confront their abusers, whether that’s in private arbitration or a court of law.”
Trouble has been brewing at the successful video game studio for almost a year. In August 2018, Kotaku published a report on Riot Game’s culture of sexism. At the center of the controversy was COO Scott Gelb, who Kotaku reported “ball tapped, farted on, or humped employees.” Riot Games suspended Gelb for two months without pay, but to date he’s still an employee.
In the aftermath, five current and former employees filed lawsuits against Riot Games. According to Kotaku, Riot Games filed a motion to force two of the lawsuits into arbitration. When Riot Games hires an employee, the employee signs away their right to sue the company. Any disagreements have to be handled via forced arbitration—a form of dispute resolution where the two parties sit down in private with an arbiter who helps resolve the problem.
In the statement published on its website, Riot said it knew its solution wouldn’t satisfy all its employees. “We understand and respect Rioters who choose to protest this decision on Monday, and admire their conviction and willingness to stand up for their beliefs,” it said. Then it argued its reason for using forced arbitration, and provided a timeline for changes to company policy.
“We support Rioters making their voices heard today,” Riot told VICE via email. “We have asked all managers to make every accommodation to allow Rioters to participate during the 2-4pm window, including freeing up meeting times. We respect Rioters who choose to walk out today and will not tolerate retaliation of any kind as a result of participating (or not).”
To fight the forced arbitration, Riot Games employees organized the walkout, which started at 2 PM and is scheduled to end at 4 PM.
“Leadership made it clear that while open to changing the policy moving forward, they are not committed to changing this policy for current Rioters,” the organizers said in a document about the walkout provided to the press. “We want to see a precise timeline for when those amendments will happen.”
“We care so much about Riot,” walkout organizers said. “Just by making ourselves heard this past week, we convinced leadership to seriously consider how to make changes to benefit Rioters. We want to see real action driven by our voice, and this is our chance. We hope to see you there.”
"I hope it makes us feel more visible and listened to," Monahan said. "There are a lot of conversations about representation. When we’re talking about representation it’s often like, ‘Is there a character that looks like me in a game?’ which is absolutely a good thing to be concerned about, but I also want to think about who are the people whose voices are being heard both internally and externally? Who are the people that players see? Who are the people that are making the games? Who are the people who are helping change policy? I hope this can bring out some of those folks and help change the face of what games look like."