- Over 100 Employees at Riot Games staged a walkout in protest of discrimination at the company and its forced arbitration policy.
- For the last eight months, several reports have emerged of sexist behavior at the company, which is a leader in the gaming industry.
- Riot Games claims it will work to do better and has outlined plans on how to improve diversity and inclusion within the next 30-90 days.
Employees Engage in Walkout
Over 100 employees at Riot Games participated in a walkout on Monday to protest the company’s forced arbitration policy and to fight against general sexism and discrimination in the workplace.
The walkouts took place at Riot Games’ Los Angeles and San Fransisco offices. Since 2018, several reports have surfaced alleging that the company has a toxic “bro-culture” and creates fewer opportunities for women.
According to reports from the demonstration in Los Angeles, employee Ronnie Blackburn addressed the crowd about Riot Games’ discrimination and forced arbitration policy.
“What we want is a timely end to the systemic silencing of employees and the promise of a fair trial for the current plaintiffs,” she said. “We are not dissonant for the sake of dissonance. We are dissonant for the sake of justice, for the sake of Riot living up to its values and for the sake of Riot being the great place that we all want it to be.”
Other Riot Games employees used the hashtag #RiotWalkout to share why they were participating and the results they hoped to see.
“Arbitration should not be forced and actions should have consequences,” one user wrote.
“We’re going to change Riot for the better, for everyone,” said another.
Using forced arbitration to handle sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace prevents cultural change for a safer workplace. Quietly resolving assault and discrimination allegations protects those in power while forces victims into silence. #RiotWalkout pic.twitter.com/kT1Zs0oM6J— Vivianette Ocasio (@RiotNebuluna) May 6, 2019
The company, which is behind the popular game “League of Legends,” gave a statement applauding their employees for speaking up.
“We understand and respect Rioters who choose to protest this decision on Monday, and admire their conviction and willingness to stand up for their beliefs,” the company said in a blog post published ahead of the protest.
The Riot Games employees also received support from Game Workers Unite, who celebrated the walkout and claimed it was the first of its kind in the gaming industry.
“You are demonstrating to all of us in this industry,” they wrote in a statement. “That real change can only come when you and your coworkers stand up for one another, share mutual respect, and develop deep relationships of care and support in the workplace.”
History of Allegations of Misconduct at Riot Games
The allegations of sexism and other discrimination began to unfold in August 2018 when Kotaku published a featured called “Inside The Culture of Sexism at Riot Games.” The piece detail several recurring actions happening inside the gaming company. Some included women being regularly passed on for leadership roles, men making inappropriate comments on womens’ appearance, men using vulgar and sexual language in the workplace, and men showing employees unsolicited photos of genitalia.
After this piece was published, an ex-employee of Riot Games, Barry Hawkins, wrote a blog post about his personal choice to leave the company. Many of his experiences validated Kotaku’s piece.
“There were two predominant flavors of behavior,” he wrote. “One was the use of sexual references and gestures by straight men toward other straight men, and the other was the sexist and inappropriate language about women.”
Specific examples he cited included men making jokes about rape, jokes about performing sex acts, and jokes about sleeping with employees’ spouses.
He added that this “aggressive behavior was constant, often daily” and that the “overall environment became fertile ground for sexism toward both men and women to run unchecked.”
Accusations against Riot Games took another step forward in November when female employees filed a lawsuit against the company. The employees claimed they faced gender-based discrimination and harassment.
What Has Riot Games Done in Response?
Since these allegations began to unravel, Riot has taken some action to address the culture that permeates throughout its walls. After Kotaku’s article, they published a blog post titled “Our First Steps Forward.”
The company said they were “taking everything we’ve learned from Rioters and leading culture-change experts, and we are starting to develop a plan with substance.”
In December, they placed their C.O.O. Scott Gelb on a two-month suspension after he was accused of sexual misconduct. There were reports of Gleb farting on employees, hitting their testicles, and humping them. Gleb’s two-month suspension was paid, and many employees though his punishment was not severe enough for his actions.
Efforts to move forward still continued. In March, Riot Games hired a Chief Diversity Officer to address issues within the company. More recently, the company posted another blog post anticipating the upcoming walkout. On Friday, they outlined future actions they would take, as well as a timeline in which they planned to accomplish these tasks.
The post specifically addressed the issue of forced arbitration at the company and announced a change in that policy.
“As soon as current litigation is resolved, we will give all new Rioters the choice to opt-out of mandatory arbitration for individual sexual harassment and sexual assault claims,” the post said.
They added that they would cover the costs of the arbitrator, that all arbitrators must be agreed upon by both parties, and that plaintiffs have rights to lawyers in these cases.
Riot Games also rolled out new plans for diversity and inclusion, which involved updating their code of conduct, committing to hiring diverse candidates, and launching anti-harassment training for all new hires. They said that all of these are set to be completed within the next 30-90 days.
See what others are saying: (Los Angeles Times) (Variety) (ESPN)
Was an Iowa Official Asked to Resign Over His Love of Tupac? He Says He Doubts It
- Jerry Foxhoven, the former director of Iowa’s Department of Human Services, was ordered to resign from his job days after sending a mass email to all 4,300 employees encouraging them to celebrate Tupac’s birthday.
- AP news obtained 350 pages of emails between Foxhoven and staff, which included quotes, lyrics, or other references to the rapper that he sent in hopes of uplifting his staff.
- The messages were mostly met with praise, but at least one staff member complained.
- Foxhoven was abruptly asked to resign without an explanation other than the office wanting to move “in a new direction,” but he says he doesn’t believe his love of Tupac was the reason for the decision.
Foxhoven Asked to Resign
A former Iowa official, who many believe was fired over his love of Tupac Shakur, says he thinks his firing had nothing to do with his support of the rapper.
Jerry Foxhoven, the former director of Iowa’s Department of Human Services, was ordered to resign from his job days after he sent a mass email to employees celebrating Tupac.
On Tuesday, the Associated Press issued a report that said it had obtained emails that showed Foxhoven routinely sent messages to employees about Tupac. According to AP News, the agency released 350 pages of email with the words “Tupac” or “2Pac” in then, which were sent to and from Foxhoven’s account during is two-years on the job.
The mass email in question was sent on June 14 and was sent to all 4,300 agent employees. In it, Foxhoven reminded employees that Father’s day was just a few days away and coincided with Tupac’s birthday. He encouraged staff to celebrate by listening to one of his songs and included what he said was an “inspiration quote” from the artist: “Pay no mind to those who talk behind your back, it simply means that you are 2 steps ahead.”
Along with celebrating the rapper’s birthday, Foxhoven also noted that he was celebrating his two-year anniversary as director and thanked the staff for their work.
The following workday, Governor Kim Reynolds’ chief of staff asked him to resign.
Here is the email 66 year old Jerry Foxhoven sent to his staff, the day he was fired.— Tim Mak (@timkmak) July 17, 2019
He notes 2Pac’s bday is also Father’s day
“Hard to believe he has been gone for almost 23 years”
By all accounts, a kind email pic.twitter.com/ohSxSVpzJL
Longrunning Love For Tupac
Foxhoven says he had been a huge Tupac fan since the ‘90s. “I’m a 66-year-old white guy from the Midwest who likes rap music, who likes Tupac!” he told NPR.
Foxhoven hosted weekly “Tupac Fridays” to play his music in the office and even celebrated his 65th birthday with Tupac-themed cookies, including ones decorated with the words “Thug Life.”
OMG he had a birthday party and his staff, knowing his love for tupac, brought him tupac themed baked goods 😭 pic.twitter.com/T3Fk76ASo3— Tim Mak (@timkmak) July 17, 2019
However, he was also known to quote other celebrities in holiday-themed messages. In other emails, Foxhoven marked the anniversary of the rapper’s death and sent a Valentine’s day message that shared lyrics and quotes about love.
Jerry celebrates Valentine’s Day with, you guessed it: more Tupac quotes for his 4,000 staff at the Iowa Department of Human Services pic.twitter.com/Z208dgYmjT— Tim Mak (@timkmak) July 17, 2019
Foxhoven also allegedly told employees that Tupac’s lyrics inspired him to improve the company’s culture, specifically pointing to lyrics like “It’s time for us as a people to start makin’ some changes.”
Many praised Foxhoven for using his love of hip hop music to lift up the workplace, “I love your 2Pac messages,” one manager wrote June 14. “And the fact that you still send them (despite the haters) makes me appreciate them even more.”
“You are such a breath of fresh air Jerry!” another staff member wrote. “Thanks for all you do, to lift us up and help us feel better about what we do than we have felt in a long time!”
However, not everyone was a fan of the messages. According to AP News, at least one person complaining to lawmakers last year about them.
Motivation For Firing Unclear
Foxhoven’s departure comes after numerous controversies at the agency including difficult contract negotiations with companies that run the Medicaid program, a trial concerning alleged mistreatment of boys at a state juvenile home, and an increase in deaths at a center for the disabled.
While it hasn’t been confirmed that Foxhoven was pushed to leave over various Tupac messages, the timing is making many suspicious. Employees have been speculating that the two must be linked, thought Foxhoven has said they might not be.
In a text message to AP News, he said believed that the governor had made the decision to “go in a different direction” before he sent his mass email. He said he wasn’t given a reason for the resignation request, but added that he doubted Tupac was a factor.
“I think it’s a coincidence,” Foxhoven told The New York Times in a phone interview, adding that the governor’s office had requested a meeting with him days before he sent the email.
“I always try to assume the best of everybody, and I can’t imagine that [the governor] would base her decision on the Tupac incident,” he told NPR. “If this is the reason, I’m really disappointed.”
However, Foxhoven also told NPR that his tenure at the Department of Human Services ended without warning or a chance for an orderly transition. He said he was not even granted a meeting with Reynolds and added that the governor’s chief of staff confiscated his cellphone and ID cards on the spot, ordering him not to return to his office.
Foxhoven also said that many directors do not serve long terms and said that his two-year tenure meant that he had outlasted many of his predecessors. Foxhoven, who had previously worked as a lawyer, professor, and children’s rights advocate, told the Times that he believed Reynolds was simply filling posts with “more political people.”
Pat Garrett, a spokesperson for the governor, told the AP: “As the governor has said, a lot of factors contributed to the resignation of Jerry Foxhoven and now Gov. Reynolds is looking forward to taking DHS in a new direction.”
According to the AP: “The governor’s office has refused to elaborate on those factors, despite an Iowa law that requires state agencies to release the “documented reasons and rationale” when employees resign instead of being terminated.”
For now, Gerd W. Clabaugh, the director of the Department of Public Health, will serve as interim director of human services.
As for Foxhoven, he told NPR that he was glad his emails are making headlines because it allows for discussions about stereotypes and music. He then noted being especially upset by a recent story about a 17-year-old teen in Arizona who was fatally stabbed by a man who said the victim’s rap music made him feel “unsafe.”
“It’s important for us to break down those stereotypes: if you listen to rap music, you’re a criminal or dangerous. It’s not true at all,” he said., adding that he hoped his situation could lead to “having open discussions about race and what we have in common, instead of what separates us.”
See what others are saying: (AP News) (The New York Times) (NPR)
Bill Pickett to Lil Nas X: The Untold Story of Black Cowboys…
Cowboys are the ultimate Americana. They are an image ingrained in our culture and ever-present in film and television throughout the years. There are old western movies starring John Wayne, the classic TV show The Lone Ranger, and famous outlaws like Billy the Kid and Butch Cassidy. What you may not know, however, is some of these classic images have actually whitewashed the real history of cowboys in the American West.
Because while most of our classic references of cowboys are traditionally white men, many cowboys weren’t white. Historians estimate one in four cowboys in the wild west were black. This is the untold story of black cowboys in the American West.
Former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad Discriminated Against Openly Gay Official, Jury Finds
- On Monday, an eight-person jury in Polk County, Iowa found that former governor, Terry Branstad, discriminated against a state official because of his sexual orientation.
- The former official, Chris Godfrey, filed the lawsuit against Branstad as well as other officials in the state of Iowa in January 2012.
- After seven years, the case finally went to trial in June 2019 and ended six weeks later with the jury awarding Godfrey $1.5 million for emotional distress.
- Branstad resigned as Governor in May 2017, after he was appointed as the U.S. Ambassador to China, a role he still holds.
A jury in Iowa awarded former state official Chris Godfrey $1.5 million after they determined that he had been discriminated against for his sexual orientation by the governor at the time, Terry Branstad.
Godfrey, who was Iowa’s commissioner of workers’ compensation, filed a lawsuit against Branstad, the state of Iowa, and other state officials in January 2012. Court records show that after seven years, the case finally went to trial in June 2019 and ended six weeks later with the decision to award Godfrey.
The former state official was awarded $1 million for being denied his constitutional due process rights and another $500,000 for the discrimination and retaliation he faced.
How This Happened
Godfrey was appointed Iowa’s workers’ compensation commissioner in 2006 and was reappointed just before Terry Branstad became Iowa’s governor in 2011. Godfrey says that once Branstad came into office, he asked Godfrey to resign from his role. The state official refused and as a result, his salary was cut by almost $40,000.
In Iowa, a commissioner holds their position for 6 years to protect it from partisan politics. However, the governor is able to ask a commissioner to step down from their role and if that request is refused, the governor can reduce the commissioner’s pay. According to local reports, Godfrey was one of 29 appointees Branstad asked to resign when he came into office.
Throughout the lawsuit, Branstad insisted he did not know Godfrey’s sexual orientation and asked him to resign due to concerns that businesses had.
However as the case continued, Branstad later admitted that Godfrey had only received positive reviews.
When the lawsuit went to trial in June 2019, Godfrey’s lawyer argued that he was shunned by Branstad’s office because he was the only openly gay man working as an executive at the time. The attorney noted specific examples, like how Godfrey was not invited to a retreat for Branstad’s department heads and executive staff.
In addition to Godfrey, other officials in Iowa have spoken out about Branstad, like current Polk County Supervisor Matt McCoy.
During the trial, McCoy testified that Branstad’s administration was a “men’s club,” and added that “being gay in 2011 through 2015 was not an easy thing and [Godfrey] was definitely experiencing discrimination.”
As for Godfrey, he explained that the lawsuit for him was about getting justice. “After I had been asked to resign twice, after my pay was slashed, I felt obviously personally attacked, I needed justice,” he told the court.
What happened to Branstad?
As for the former governor, in December 2016 he was appointed U.S. Ambassador to China by President Donald Trump. Branstad was later confirmed in May 2017, after a vote 82 to 13, and he resigned as governor two days later.
According to The Economist, Branstad and China’s ambassador are “old friends,” which is considered a great compliment in Chinese culture. The two met in 1985 during Branstad’s first term as Iowa’s governor. The article notes that in 2015, Iowa’s agricultural exports to China made up $1.4 billion of the $2.3 billion exported from the U.S.