Riot CEO investigated for discrimination and sexual harassment

Steven Rondina • February 9, 21:37

Riot Games’ gender discrimination issues continue to linger.

Former Riot Games executive assistant Sharon O’Donnell filed suit against the company in January for medical expenses, lost wages, and general damages related to employment. As a result of the suit, the company is investigating CEO Nicolo Laurent for alleged gender discrimination and sexual harassment, per Daily Esports.

Riot issued a statement on the matter, acknowledging the investigation:

“Core to giving Rioters confidence in our commitment to culture transformation is taking all allegations of harassment or discrimination very seriously, thoroughly investigating claims and taking action against anyone who is found to have violated our policies…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,” Riot Games spokesperson Joe Hixson said in a statement.

O’Donnell worked with Riot Games from 2017 to July 2020. O’Donnell claims that Laurent was hostile while she served as an assistant, and that she was yelled at and told to “watch her tone” by the CEO. O’Donnell also alleges that Laurent sexually harassed her and she adds that her termination from Riot Games came shortly after she brought concerns over this to the company’s human resources department.

In addition to the allegations of sexual harassment, O’Donnell is accusing Riot Games of wage theft. She contends that she was a non-exempt employee who should have been working on an hourly rate, but was misclassified by Riot as an exempt employee who was ineligible for overtime. Riot Games did not issue responses to all of O’Donnell’s allegations but strongly pushed back against the notion that she was fired due to her complaints against Laurent. 

“The plaintiff was dismissed from the company over seven months ago based on multiple well-documented complaints from a variety of people. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false,” Riot said in a statement.

Riot Games already under scrutiny for sexual discrimination

O’Donnell’s suit against Riot Games comes as the company battles back against a previous gender discrimination lawsuit. In 2018, Riot Games was the subject of an expose published by Kotaku discussing pervasive gender discrimination in the company that included a refusal to promote women into leadership positions and a toxic culture that made employees uncomfortable and discriminated against women. A class-action lawsuit followed, and eventually Riot agreed to a $10 million settlement.

This settlement drew an objection from the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, who stated that the plaintiffs should be seeking up to $400 million in damages. The plaintiffs then withdrew their motion for a settlement and brought forward a new legal team led by prominent anti-harassment attorney Genie Harrison.

The matter has been playing out in court since, but in January, Riot Games scored a key win when a judge forced some of the plaintiffs into individual arbitration with the company and out of the class-action lawsuit. This serves to shield Riot from both the public scrutiny of a trial and will likely significantly dial back the amount of money Riot is required to pay out in damages. Riot Games employees famously walked out of the company in 2019 over a similar legal maneuver by the company, but so far there has not been any public unrest in the company over this latest twist.

2021 is set to be another tumultuous year for the publisher behind League of Legends and Valorant. Expect more stories on both of these cases to play out in the coming months.

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