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Over 100 Riot Games Employees Walk Out to Protest Forced Arbitration

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  • 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.

Company Response

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)

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New COVID-19 Variant Could Become Dominant in the U.S. by March, CDC Warns

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  • The CDC warned Friday that a new highly transmissible COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.
  • The strain was first reported in the United Kingdom in December and is now in at least 10 states.
  • The CDC used a modeled trajectory to discover how quickly the variant could spread in the U.S. and said that this could threaten the country’s already overwhelmed healthcare system.

CDC Issues Warning

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Friday that the new COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.

While it is not known to be more deadly, it does spread at a higher rate, which is troubling considering the condition the U.S. is already in. Cases and deaths are already on the rise in nearly every state and globally, 2 million lives have been lost to the coronavirus. 

The variant was first reported in the United Kingdom in mid-December. It is now in 30 countries, including the U.S., where cases have been located in at least ten states. Right now, only 76 cases of this variant have been confirmed in the U.S., but experts believe that number is likely much higher and said it will increase significantly in the coming weeks. It is already a dominant strain in parts of the U.K.

Modeled trajectory shows that growth in the U.S. could be so fast that it dominates U.S. cases just three months into the new year. This could pose a huge threat to our already strained healthcare system.

Mitigating Spread of Variant

“I want to stress that we are deeply concerned that this strain is more transmissible and can accelerate outbreaks in the U.S. in the coming weeks,” said Dr. Jay Butler, deputy director for infectious diseases at the CDC told the New York Times. “We’re sounding the alarm and urging people to realize the pandemic is not over and in no way is it time to throw in the towel.”

The CDC advises that health officials use this time to limit spread and increase vaccination as much as possible in order to mitigate the impact this variant will have. Experts believe that current vaccines will protect against this strain.

“Effective public health measures, including vaccination, physical distancing, use of masks, hand hygiene, and isolation and quarantine, will be essential,” the CDC said in their report.

“Strategic testing of persons without symptoms but at higher risk of infection, such as those exposed to SARS-CoV-2 or who have frequent unavoidable contact with the public, provides another opportunity to limit ongoing spread.”

See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (New York Times) (NBC News)

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Former Michigan Gov. and 8 Others Charged Over Flint Water Crisis

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Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. (Al Goldis/AP)

  • Ex-Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was charged with two counts of willful neglect of duty Wednesday for his role in the Flint water crisis
  • By Thursday, eight more former state and city officials were charged with crimes ranging from involuntary manslaughter to extortion.
  • Flint residents have long awaited this news. In 2019, prosecutors dropped all criminal charges against 15 officials and said they would start the investigation from scratch, citing concerns about how the special counsel had conducted its probe.

Rick Snyder Charges

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office said Thursday that it had filed 41 charges against nine former state and city officials for their role in the Flint water crisis.

The most high-profile figure to be charged was former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. On Wednesday, he was hit with two counts of willful neglect of duty.

He was the state’s top executive when local officials decided to switch the city’s drinking water source to the Flint River in 2014.

The switch was supposed to be a temporary cost-saving measure while a pipeline was being built to Lake Huron. However, the water wasn’t treated properly for corrosion, so lead-contaminated water was released into the homes of people all over the city. Because of that, 12 people died and at least 90 were sickened with Legionnaires’ disease.

Snyder appeared in court this morning via Zoom, pleading not guilty to the two misdemeanor charges. If convicted he could face up to a year in prison and as much as a $1,000 fine.

His charges alone are significant because they make him the first governor or former governor in the state to ever be charged with a crime for alleged conduct while in office.

8 Others Charged

Along with Snyder, eight others were charged, including a former state health director Nick Lyon. Lyon received nine charges of involuntary manslaughter, among others.

Richard Baird, one of Snyder’s closes advisors was changed for extortion, perjury, and obstructions of justice. Others who were charged include:

  • Jarrod Agen, Snyder’s former chief of staff and Vice President Mike Pence’s former communications director.
  • Dr. Eden Wells, a former chief medical executive for the state Department of Health and Human Services. 
  • Darnell Earley, former Flint finance director and state-appointed emergency manager.
  • Gerald Ambrose, former state-appointed emergency manager.
  • Howard Croft, former Flint Public Works Director.
  • Nancy Peeler, the state’s director of maternal, infant and early childhood home visiting for the health department.

Flint residents have waited a long time for justice over the water contamination issue. Prosecutors previously dropped all 15 criminal charges tied to the Flint case in 2019 and said the investigation would begin again from scratch.

At the time, they cited concerns about how the special counsel had conducted its probe.

It also wasn’t until last year that the state reached a $600 million settlement with victims, establishing a fund from which residents can file for compensation.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Detroit News) (Detroit Free Press)

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Three Lawmakers Test Positive for COVID-19 Following Capitol Attack

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  • At least three Congressmembers have tested positive for COVID-19 following Wednesday’s pro-Trump attack on the Capitol. 
  • Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) believe they contracted the virus after locking down in close quarters with numerous Republican lawmakers who refused to wear masks.
  • Jayapal and Schneider are calling for those who did not wear a mask to face consequences.

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman Tests Positive

At least three members of Congress have tested positive for COVID-19 after locking down in close quarters with other House members during Wednesday’s pro-Trump attack on the Capitol. 

Congress’ attending physician, Brian Monahan, warned that members may have been exposed during the lockdown. He recommended that everyone who was isolated inside should get tested for the virus. 

On Monday Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) became the first to announce that she tested positive. Watson Coleman believes she was exposed while in the Capitol lockdown. In her statement, she cited the multiple Republicans who refused to wear masks while inside. Video footage from Punchbowl News shows a Democratic lawmaker handing out masks and a handful of Republicans declining to take one. 

Watson Coleman is a 75-year-old lung cancer survivor. While she said she is only experiencing cold-like symptoms, she tweeted that per a doctor’s suggestion, she headed to a local hospital for antibody treatment. She also encouraged those who sheltered in place to get tested. 

More Cases Follow

Later on Monday, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said she too had tested positive, also blaming a lack of mask-wearing in the Capitol. In a lengthy Twitter thread, she said Republicans created a superspreader event and demanded consequences for their actions. 

Many Republicans still refused to take the bare minimum COVID-19 precaution and simply wear a damn mask in a crowded room during a pandemic—creating a superspreader event ON TOP of a domestic terrorist attack,” she wrote. 

“Any Member who refuses to wear a mask should be fully held accountable,” Jayapal added. 

“I’m calling for every single Member who refuses to wear a mask in the Capitol to be fined and removed from the floor by the Sergeant at Arms.”

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) echoed her frustrations on Tuesday after releasing a statement saying he has become the third House member to have tested positive following the lockdown. 

“Today, I am now in strict isolation, worried that I have risked my wife’s health and angry at the selfishness and arrogance of the anti-maskers who put their own contempt and disregard for decency ahead of the health and safety of their colleagues and our staff,” he wrote.

Like Jayapal, he is calling for sanctions against those who opted to not wear masks. 

Many health officials feared that this lockdown could lead to a surge in cases. They also worry that the mob itself could lead to a superspreader event as most of those who attacked the Capitol were not wearing masks and were crowding together both inside and outside of the building.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (NBC Chicago)

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