A California state court judge granted his preliminary blessing for the $100 million settlement to resolve gender discrimination claims by female Riot Games workers who accused the video game maker of fostering a “bro culture” environment rife with sexual harassment, finding the deal to be fair, reasonable and adequate.
On Friday morning, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Elihu M. Berle preliminarily approved the settlement reached between the class of aggrieved female contractors and employees and the League of Legends creator, after hearing no objections from either side.
Judge Berle noted that the parties in the case conducted extensive investigation and discovery, analyzed more than 180,000 documents and files, deposed Riot employees, interviewed dozens of witnesses, hired and worked with various economic and human resource experts to analyze Riot Games' employment data and compensation structure, and also attended a mandatory settlement conference last year before retired Superior Court Judge Daniel J. Buckley, all of which helped lead to the settlement.
"Based on the evidence, the court does conclude that the settlement is entitled to a presumption of fairness," Judge Berle said Friday.
Commonality, typicality, numerosity and adequacy have all been met to certify the class for settlement purposes, the judge added. Common issues in the case included whether Riot Games systemically compensated its female employees and contractors less than similarly situated male employees and contractors, and whether the women were deprived of workplace opportunities such as promotions, the judge said.
A hearing on a final approval of the settlement is set for Dec. 1.
"I do congratulate all participants, counsel and the parties for their efforts to resolve this case," Judge Berle told the attorneys at the end of the hearing.
Outside the courtroom, Genie Harrison of Genie Harrison Law Firm APC and Nicholas W. Sarris of JML Law, co-counsel for the class of female employees, expressed their gratitude for the judge's approval of the deal, and happiness for the women who fought for so long throughout the litigation.
"I have to say I'm incredibly gratified that the court has preliminarily approved this extraordinary and precedent-setting equal pay class action settlement, along with the tremendous structural reforms and changes," Harrison told Law360. "I'm grateful to the brave women of Riot Games who stepped forward to bring this case, and I'm so grateful to our incredible plaintiffs' team. I can't wait for the women to get the money they're owed."
Sarris added: "I want to congratulate the women and everyone's hard work. This is really their victory."
According to the terms of the settlement, a nonreversionary cash fund of a minimum of $80 million will go to approximately 1,065 female Riot employees and about 1,300 temporary contract workers. The settlement covers a class period from Nov. 6, 2014, through Dec. 21, 2021. The deal also includes up to $20 million for attorneys fees and costs.
As part of the injunctive relief provisions in the consent decree, Riot Games will analyze pay equity and make any appropriate pay adjustments to benefit female workers and create job opportunities to benefit temporary agency contract worker applicants and undergo an independent expert analysis and independent monitor audit to see whether supplemental workplace improvements are recommended.
Riot Games has also agreed not to prohibit workers from discussing their salary, to provide pay scales, and to limit implicit bias in the hiring process by including underrepresented communities in recruitment efforts, using objective criteria for applicants and implementing a policy that would invite at least one woman or member from an underrepresented community to serve in the hiring process.
There will be a $6 million cash reserve set aside each year for three years to address the injunctive relief provisions, except for the third-party independent expert and monitor, according to the settlement terms.
Friday's preliminary approval nears the end of an almost four-year litigation commenced in November 2018 by Riot employees Melanie McCracken and Jessica Negron, who alleged violations of California's Equal Pay Act and discrimination, retaliation and sexual harassment due to their gender, among other claims.
The aggrieved employees alleged numerous instances of male employees grabbing their crotches, air humping and discussing, through email, what it would be like to "penetrate" women working at the company.
In 2018, before the employees filed their proposed class action, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing launched a probe into the allegations surrounding Riot Games. In December 2019, the plaintiffs and Riot Games reached a $10 million deal, but the DFEH and the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement objected to the deal, arguing it contained an "overly broad" release of all the claims in exchange for "minimal benefits," and later intervened in the case in the summer of 2020.
Representatives for Riot Games and the state agencies did not immediately return requests for comment Friday afternoon.
The women are represented by Genie Harrison, Mia Munro and Andrea Fields of Genie Harrison Law Firm APC, and Joseph M. Lovretovich, Brooke C. Bellah and Nicholas W. Sarris of JML Law APLC.
The case is Melanie McCracken et al. v. Riot Games Inc., case number 18STCV03957, in the Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles.
Riot Games is represented by Catherine A. Conway, Katherine V.A. Smith and Tiffany Phan of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP.