Riot Games accused of not telling employees their rights to assist in discrimination probe

When Riot Games made various settlements for sexual harassment allegations in 2019, the language in those settlements allegedly suggested employees could not speak with the government about sexual harassment.

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The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) has gone to court to compel Riot Games into telling its workers about their rights to speak with the government about instances of sexual harassment and discrimination.

This is the second time the DFEH has done this, with US courts granting the department's request the first time two months ago when it ordered Riot Games to provide a notice to employees about their rights. The DFEH alleges Riot Games did not follow through with the initial order, however, which is what has led to the DFEH going to court again.

The DFEH wants Riot Games to provide this information to its employees as the Tencent-owned company entered into various sexual harassment settlements in 2019 that the department found to be "alarming" in nature. The DFEH, in its investigation of these settlements, found the settlement documents suggested that "employees could not voluntarily and candidly speak with the government about sexual harassment and other violations".

The settlements were in a relation to a lawsuit that accused the Riot Games of providing unequal pay, gender discrimination, and fostering a "sexually hostile work environment".

In the United States, employers are not allowed to impose a penalty on people if they speak to the government about harassment or discrimination regardless of any non-disclosure or non-disparagement agreements that they have signed.

"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," DFEH director Kevin Kish said in a press release [PDF].

In an email to ZDNet, a Riot Games spokesperson said 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".

The Riot spokesperson also denied the DFEH's claims that it has made it harder for employees, both current and former, to speak with government agencies while sharing a portion of its standard severance agreement, which said: "Nothing in this agreement prohibits you from reporting possible violations of federal or state law or regulation to any governmental agency or entity."

Since 2018, Riot Games' workplace has been hit with a series of sexual harassment allegations, with a Kotaku investigation detailing the company's discriminatory work environment. The company was then hit with the aforementioned lawsuit and more than 100 employees walked out over the company's handling of the sexual harassment lawsuit.

At the start of this year, the company's CEO Nicolas Laurent was accused of sexually harassing his former executive assistant, but an internally funded investigation later claimed there was "no evidence" of wrongdoing.

Updated at 12:15pm AEST, 17 August 2021: added comments from Riot Games spokesperson.

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