Editor’s note: This article was updated on Feb. 11 to include comment from the attorney for plaintiff Sharon O’Donnell.
Riot Games confirmed Tuesday that it is investigating allegations of gender discrimination and sexual harassment by its CEO, Nicolo Laurent, in light of a legal complaint against the League of Legends and Valorant developer.
The legal complaint by former Riot executive assistant Sharon O’Donnell was filed in January 2021. O’Donnell, who was terminated by Riot in July 2020, is suing for lost wages, medical expenses and general damages related to her employment.
“Core to giving Rioters confidence in our commitment to culture transformation is taking all allegations of harassment or discrimination very seriously, thoroughly investigating claims and taking action against anyone who is found to have violated our policies,” Riot spokesperson Joe Hixson said in a statement. “In this case, because some of the claims relate to an executive leader, a special committee of our Board of Directors is overseeing the investigation, which is being conducted by an outside law firm.
“Our CEO has pledged his full cooperation and support during this process, and we’re committed to ensuring that all claims are thoroughly explored and appropriately resolved.”
O’Donnell joined Riot in 2017 and worked there until her alleged “wrongful termination” in July 2020, according to the complaint. During the course of her employment, O’Donnell claims she was repeatedly yelled at by Laurent and was consistently told to “watch her tone” by the CEO.
Some of O’Donnell’s other allegations include Laurent telling female employees the best method to handle stress during the COVID-19 pandemic was to “have kids.” She also claimed Laurent made sexual advances toward her and asked O’Donnell to travel with him outside of work.
O’Donnell said in the complaint that when she declined Laurent’s offer, he yelled at her and later had her work duties taken away. She said she was criticized by the CEO for her “tone,” and she said she believes her termination, which occurred shortly after she complained to Riot’s human resources department about Laurent’s behavior, was in direct relation to refusing the CEO’s alleged advances.
During her employment, O’Donnell claims, she was a non-exempt employee covered by the wage and hour laws of the California Labor Code and the applicable Wage Orders. However, she was treated as an exempt employee, meaning she did not receive the benefits constituted by the labor code in California. O’Donnell should have been paid for all hours of her work, received meal breaks/rest breaks and been paid for overtime, according to the documents.
In the complaint, O’Donnell said she was subject to work 10 hours a day, five days a week, but frequently stayed for overtime and worked on weekends. Although Laurent was allegedly aware of this, O’Donnell claimed she did not receive payment for her extra work.
“One subject we can address immediately is the plaintiff’s claim about their separation from Riot,” the company said in a statement. “The plaintiff was dismissed from the company over seven months ago based on multiple well-documented complaints from a variety of people. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false.”
O’Donnell’s legal council declined to comment.
Riot Games is also under renewed scrutiny from multiple government agencies in California due to alleged “gender discrimination in hiring, pay and promotion decisions; sexual harassment; and retaliation by Riot against its female employees,” according to documents obtained by Daily Esports.
The Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) and the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) released a joint statement on Feb. 3 claiming that Riot “violated the law in multiple ways” in regard to its treatment of women in the workplace. The notice is a continuation of the ongoing McCracken et al. vs Riot Games case from November 2018, when the DFEH later initiated an investigation following a report by Kotaku in 2018 on the “bro culture” and misogynistic environment at Riot.
The investigation, which commenced in December 2020, will cover the “period of time which wages, penalties, damages, or other amounts which may be assessed by the labor commissioner,” according to the document. The inquiry, set to last for 12 months, will investigate O’Donnell’s claims made in the complaint.
Riot is facing several legal challenges by former employees, with Melanie McCracken et al. vs. Riot Games as the most prominent example. This case has been ongoing for several years, with the most recent proceeding on Jan. 25 with Riot attempting to bring the cases of several former employees to arbitration.
At the time of publication O’Donnell’s legal council declined to comment. However, upon learning of Riot Games’ response, O’Donnell has told Daily Esports that she denies her wrongful termination was subject to multiple members of staff complaining about her behaviour. “Ms. O’Donnell strongly denies that her wrongful termination had anything to do with complaints made by employees or external partners,” her council said.
“She alleges that she was never made aware of any such complaints. Nor was there any ‘coaching’. Instead, there were sexist comments made about her ‘tone’. She alleges that she was wrongfully terminated because she refused to give in to Nicholas Laurent’s sexual overtures. She also alleges that was also wrongfully terminated because she was a strong woman in a male dominated sexist company where women are devalued. She looks forward to proving her case.”