In addition to Activision Blizzard, California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing has also been looking at Riot Games’ history of “unlawful workplace practices”, saying in a statement today that the League of Legends developer has once again delayed their investigations into harassment and sexual discrimination.
The DFEH’s statement addresses Riot’s 2019 decision to privately settle with “approximately 100 women who waived their claims and rights”, with the Department saying:
Agreements that attempt to bar individuals from filing a complaint or assisting in a DFEH case run afoul of the anti-retaliation and anti-interference provisions of the Fair Employment and Housing Act. Employers cannot impose a penalty on people who engage in protected activity under statutes enforced by DFEH. The very existence of such agreements has a chilling effect on the willingness of individuals to come forward with information that may be of importance to the DFEH as it seeks to advance the public interest in the elimination of unlawful employment discrimination and harassment.
But the notice today was issued specifically because the DFEH is accusing Riot of dragging their heels on the investigation (emphasis mine):
In 2019, more than a year after the government opened a company-wide investigation of sexual harassment, sex discrimination, and sexual assault at Riot Games, the company announced it had reached secret settlement agreements with approximately 100 women who waived their claims and rights, without notice of the government’s actions. For the next 18 months, the DFEH sought the secret settlement agreements. The Court ordered Riot to produce them to the government in January 2021; however, Riot delayed production until April 2021. Alarmed by language in Riot’s settlement and separation agreements that suggested employees could not voluntarily and candidly speak with the government about sexual harassment and other violations, and obtain relief in the government’s actions, DFEH promptly moved for relief from the Court. The Court ordered Riot to issue the corrective notice; however, Riot has delayed the process for two months.
The DFEH’s statement also reminds workers that even those who signed settlements cannot be prohibited from speaking with the Department or taking part in any resulting case:
The court-ordered notice informs workers that they “may freely cooperate, participate, and obtain potential relief, if awarded,” in DFEH’s pending action, and that “Riot Games cannot retaliate or take any adverse action against [them] for speaking with DFEH, participating in DFEH pending action, or obtaining potential relief in such action.” Moreover, “Riot Games cannot require [any worker] to either notify the company or obtain permission before speaking with DFEH,” and that “[i]t is unlawful for [any] employer to retaliate against [workers] for speaking to the government or otherwise voluntarily participating or cooperating in government proceedings.”
This isn’t the first time the DFEH has accused Riot of delaying their investigation. In 2019, when first putting their case together, the Department said Riot had “impeded” their efforts on multiple fronts:
While the investigation began in October 2018, the DFEH said that Riot has so far “refused to provide the Department with adequate information for DFEH to analyze whether women are paid less than men at the company,” which is why it is now filing the suit. In the suit, the DFEH says that Riot has “impeded” the investigation by withholding “basic employment data that… employment laws require employers to maintain.” The DFEH said it has met with Riot numerous times but has been unable to reach a solution without involving the courts.
In response Riot tells Kotaku “this issue is mainly related to former employees”, that “Notices are being sent to former employees to confirm that Riot’s severance agreements have never in any way prohibited speaking to government agencies”, and that “Riot has never and will never retaliate against anyone for talking to any government agency”.