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Riot walkout sees over 150 employees protest forced arbitration and systemic sexism

"We don't want to be silenced."

Following Riot Games' attempts to block several gender discrimination lawsuits, employees have staged a walkout to protest the company's sexist culture and forced arbitration.

Talk of the walkout began last week, and over 150 employees joined yesterday's demonstration at Riot's Los Angeles studio. Participants held picket signs and gave speeches in a parking area on the company campus (via Kotaku).

The push to stage a walkout stemmed from Riot's efforts to squash two of five gender discrimination lawsuits, which came in the wake of a Kotaku investigation into systemic sexism at the company. Riot insisted the women had waived their right to sue when they were hired, but public outcry meant the company subsequently agreed to scrap its policy of mandatory arbitration. This will only apply for new hires, however, and not existing staff or the current gender discrimination lawsuits.

Naturally, the lack of commitment to address the ongoing lawsuits didn't satisfy many, thus prompting the walkout. According to the public FAQ for the walkout, the organisers wish to see a complete withdrawal of the "motion for forced arbitration in active suits", along with a precise timeline for the amendments.

"Under forced arbitration, employees' only option is to resolve issues through a company-recommended arbitrator," the FAQ states. "Because women and minorities are more likely to file discrimination and harassment suits, they're disproportionately impacted by these policies."

"We don't want to be silenced. We believe every one of us has the right to take action against rights violations. While private arbitration itself isn't necessarily bad, when dealing with the fallout of discrimination and harassment, it should be our lives, our choice. Private arbitration should not be forced."

Although forced arbitration was the main focus of the protest, other issues raised included calls for Riot to do more to combat sexism and prevent sexual harassment within the company.

In a statement to Kotaku, Riot Games said it would "respect Rioters who choose to walkout today and will not tolerate retaliation of any kind as a result of participating (or not)".

At the end of the walkout, Riot social listening strategist Jocelyn Monahan announced that further action would be taken if Riot management failed to make a commitment on forced arbitration by 16th May. Looks like we could be seeing some more protests fairly soon.

Riot Games recently created a 90-day plan to address its cultural problems and increase diversity within the company. While these initiatives are promising, the problem of the current lawsuits remains. If Riot truly wants to tackle its cultural problems without appearing hypocritical, it's going to have to rethink its forced arbitration policy. Given the financial risk presented by the current lawsuits and the possibility of more lawsuits appearing, I doubt Riot's lawyers are keen to let that happen - but hopefully demonstrations such as this will apply the necessary pressure to change things.

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