Over 200 employees of video game developer Riot Games staged a walkout on May 6, protesting the company’s practice of forcing employees into arbitration in cases of sexual discrimination. The employees gathered at the company’s Los Angeles headquarters, holding signs that read “Silence one of us, you silence us all” and “It shouldn’t take all this to do the right thing”. This protest appears to be the first instance of large-scale organization by workers in the US gaming industry.
Reports unveiling widespread sexism at Riot began surfacing in late 2018 when a number of employees came forward alleging that the company fostered a culture of casual misogyny and harassment, which often manifested in its hiring practices, distribution of projects and promotion strategies.
Many women employed at Riot claimed that senior executives often harassed them with suggestive comments and often endorsed their male co-workers’ contributions to projects over theirs. Employees also claimed that women at Riot were consistently denied leadership opportunities despite having all the necessary qualifications.
In early 2019, five employees filed sexual discrimination lawsuits against the company, alleging that it had violated the California Fair Pay Act. Among other things, the employees alleged sexual misconduct on part of the company’s senior executives and claimed that the company had denied female employees equal pay and equal opportunities at senior leadership roles.
In April, Riot filed a motion to force two of those employees into arbitration, an extralegal process where a suit does not go in front of a jury. However, the company contends that the employees signed arbitration agreements, which waived their rights to a jury trial against the company.
Organizers of the protest said that plans of a walkout had been brewing for over six months.The forced arbitration was the final straw. Even though Riot announced on May 3 that it would soon start giving new employees an option to opt out of such arbitration, the employees felt that the company could do more.
“We are not dissident for the sake of dissidence, we are dissident for the sake of justice, for the sake of Riot living up to its values, and for the sake of making Riot the great place that we all want it to be,” said Ronnie Blackburn, a researcher at the company and one of the walkout organizers.
The protesters set a deadline of May 16 for the company to respond to their demands and take necessary steps to retrospectively end the practice of forced arbitration.
The protesters said that walkouts at Google inspired them to take action. In 2018, more than 20,000 employees worldwide protested Google’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations. The walkout pushed the tech giant to end its practice of forced arbitration for sexual harassment allegations. Google’s decision led to corporations like Facebook, Microsoft, Uber and Lyft following suit.