Riot Games' Proposed $10M Settlement Withdrawn by New Counsel in Gender Discrimination Suit

Riot Games HQ - Publicity - H 2019
Patrick Shanley

In December, the video game studio reached the settlement with former female employees alleging gender discrimination and harassment, but new legal counsel is seeking more.

Riot Games' legal woes continue as, on Thursday evening, new legal counsel representing former female employees involved in a class action lawsuit alleging discrimination and sexual harassment against the company opposed December's preliminary settlement of $10 million.

The settlement was first revealed in August. Plaintiffs Melanie McCracken and Jessica Negron, who filed the initial suit, both were to be rewarded between $10,000-$20,000 as part of the settlement announced in December.

Citing "alleged mistakes and improprieties by prior class counsel" made by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) and the Department of Labor Standards & Enforcement (DLSE), class representatives hired new legal counsel in women's rights attorney Genie Harrison, in partnership with employment lawyer Joseph Lovretovich, to replace prior legal counsel Rosen & Saba, LLP. The substitution was made in late January.

"From the beginning, Riot and its counsel have approached these conversations with empathy in order to reach a resolution which we believe is fair for everyone involved," said a Riot Games spokesperson in a statement obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. "We support the Plaintiffs' engagement in this process and their right to seek different legal counsel. We are aware that Plaintiffs' new counsel withdrew the pending Motion for Preliminary Approval, which will give them adequate time to review the proposed settlement agreement. We also filed a joint statement with their new counsel noting that we remain committed to working towards a fair resolution for everyone involved."

On Friday, Riot expanded on its initial statement: "We understand that the plaintiffs’ new counsel needs adequate time to review the proposed settlement agreement and we respect that. That said, the analysis and discussions which led to the earlier proposed settlement were comprehensive and thorough, and we believe that the proposal was fair and adequate under the circumstances. We’re committed to working collaboratively to reach a resolution that reflects our commitment to move forward together, but it needs to be one that is justified by the underlying facts."

The DFEH and DLSE revealed their opposition to the settlement in January, with the DFEH claiming the decision had been "rushed and that violations that could amount up to an additional $390 million in damages."

Riot responded to the DFEH directly in its statement on Friday: "With respect to the outlandish numbers posited by the DFEH, we’ll say again that there is no basis in fact or reason that would justify that level of exposure and we believe that any assertions to the contrary can simply not be made in good faith. While we have acknowledged that there is work that we needed to do to better live up to our values, we have also made clear to our employees that we will defend ourselves against false narratives and unfair claims that do nothing to remedy any hardships of actual class members."

In December, attorney Ryan Saba of Rosen & Saba, LLP called the settlement one of the "largest settlements in the State of California history for gender inequality," and said it "shows that Riot is serious about changing the culture at the company."

Harrison and Lovretovich withdrew the motion to approve the settlement and are currently obtaining "expert analysis of the alleged pay disparities for the women of Riot Games."

“These brave women spoke out against gender inequality and sexism, and I want to make sure they are fairly compensated,” said Harrison. “Our well-qualified statisticians are already analyzing pay data. We intend to recover the compensation due to the women of Riot Games and achieve institutional reform, in order to level the playing field for women.”

“We don’t step into these types of cases lightly, but where questions of fairness and justice are at stake, we want to ensure these class representatives are getting the justice they seek,” said Lovretovich.

Feb. 20, 10:05 p.m.: Updated with statement from Riot Games.

Feb. 21, 12:34 p.m.: Updated with new statements from Riot Games.