One of the ugliest stories around esports from 2019 is likely making a comeback in 2021.
Riot Games is once again looking to force plaintiffs in the company’s ongoing gender discrimination lawsuit into arbitration. This legal tactic by Riot led to the mass walkouts in the company in 2019.
Due to previously signed agreements, some of the plaintiffs involved in the case will be forced into private arbitration with Riot. It is unclear how many of the plaintiffs will be impacted by this and what impact it could have on the case as a whole. The case will still see a courtroom, but this will likely be a major boon to Riot as it seeks to pay out as little money as possible to the plaintiffs.
News from hearing on the Riot Games gender discrimination case today: Because of signed arbitration agreements, claims brought by some plaintiffs must be arbitrated privately. One plaintiff’s claims (+ potentially on behalf of class) can go to court. This is re: lawyer statement
— Cecilia D’Anastasio (@cecianasta) January 25, 2021
Riot Games was the subject of a scathing expose published by Kotaku in 2018. The report detailed systemic issues within the company ranging from a refusal to hire women into leadership positions to a “bro culture” at Riot that saw executives farting in employees’ faces during meetings, among other offenses.
Riot agreed to pay $10 million to the plaintiffs in 2019, but the settlement faced an objection from the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing which stated that the company should be paying out up to $400 million based on its own investigation. The agency also blasted the non-monetary terms of the settlement, stating “no enforceable changes to employment policies, at a company alleged to be rife with sexism, are part of the settlement.” Riot contested the agency’s claims.
A month later, the plaintiffs withdrew their motion for a settlement and hired new representation in Harrison, who rose to fame during the #MeToo movement by bringing cases against the Weinstein Company.
Public backlash is likely and another employee walkout is a real possibility for Riot Games with this latest attempt to force arbitration. While that’s certainly not ideal for the company, it may be an easier pill to swallow than the potential of a nine-figure payout in the case.
In a case like this between a large company and its past and present employees, arbitration tends to heavily favor the company. Class action lawsuits allow multiple parties to come together in order to take on a larger entity on more even footing, but arbitration undermines that by effectively forcing individuals into one-on-one negotiations with the company.
Though the individuals in the case would likely still see a settlement of some kind, odds are it would allow Riot Games to pay out much less money in total.
“Now that Riot knows it can’t settle the case on the cheap, it wants to force Riot women into arbitration, preventing the women from fighting together as a group against the company…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,” plaintiffs’ counsel Genie Harrison said.