Plaintiffs in Riot gender discrimination lawsuit hire new counsel

Greeters wait at the entrance of a staging area for a walkout at Riot Games on May 6, 2019, in Santa Monica, California. Riot employees put on the walkout to protest forced arbitration policies by Riot in regard to disputes by employees with the company. Photo by Emily Rand

LOS ANGELES -- Representatives in a gender discrimination class-action lawsuit against Riot Games announced Thursday that they have hired new legal counsel for their complaint.

Genie Harrison and Joseph Lovretovich have replaced the class action's former firm, Rosen & Saba, after two California state agencies -- the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) and the Department of Labor Standards & Enforcement (DLSE) -- opposed the preliminary settlement reached by both parties in December.

Rosen & Saba had litigated the class-action since its inception in November 2018. Their previous settlement of the class-action discrimination lawsuit against Riot included a $10 million payout to be disbursed among the members of the class action. Plaintiffs Jessica Negron and Melanie McCracken (and later, Gabriela Downie) were previously represented by Rosen & Saba for this preliminary settlement. At the time, it was one of the largest settlements in the state of California for gender inequality.

In a Jan. 8 document, the DFEH stated the women could instead be entitled to $400 million in back pay from wage differences (an additional $390 million along with the initial $10 million).

The DFEH and DLSE stepped in following a settlement that would see about $6.2 million distributed among around 1,000 class-action members following legal fees. Negron and Downie were expected to receive $10,000, the highest payout for any of the class-action members, from that result. According to the new attorneys, "the class may be entitled to hundreds of millions more in damages."

"We don't step into these types of cases lightly," Lovretovich said in a statement. "But where questions of fairness and justice are at stake, we want to ensure these class representatives are getting the justice they seek."

More: Riot Games employees stage walkout over forced arbitration | Riot COO Scott Gelb suspended following internal investigation | A timeline of the Riot Games cultural controversy

Harrison and Lovretovich withdrew the motion to approve the initial settlement between Riot and the class, according to a statement, and will obtain analysis of alleged pay discrepancies.

Harrison is a noted Los Angeles employment and women's rights attorney who represents women in cases of retaliation, discrimination and sexual assault.

Recently, she has been known for her work in the Harvey Weinstein cases and is also an outspoken advocate against forced arbitration. Private arbitration was a major sticking point in the Riot Games case and one of the primary reasons for a May 6, 2019 walkout at Riot's Santa Monica campus.

"These brave women spoke out against gender inequality and sexism, and I want to make sure they are fairly compensated," Harrison said in a statement. "Our well-qualified statisticians are already analyzing pay data. We intend to recover the compensation due to the women of Riot Games and achieve institutional reform, in order to level the playing field for women."

"From the beginning, Riot and its counsel have approached these conversations with empathy in order to reach a resolution which we believe is fair for everyone involved," Riot Games Corporate Communications Lead Joe Hixson said in a statement to ESPN. "We support the plaintiffs' engagement in this process and their right to seek different legal counsel.

"We are aware that plaintiffs' new counsel withdrew the pending motion for preliminary approval, which will give them adequate time to review the proposed settlement agreement. We also filed a joint statement with their new counsel noting that we remain committed to working towards a fair resolution for everyone involved."

The statement was a pivot from Riot's approach when the DFEH and DLSE first flagged the settlement and "alleged mistakes and improprieties by prior class counsel," as the representatives put it in their Thursday statement. Those alleged errors were initially revealed in reporting by the Los Angeles Times in late January.

Rosen & Saba filed rebuttals to the DFEH and DLSE objections, according to the Los Angeles Times. Riot also disputed the departments' findings at the time.

"We worked hard to negotiate with the lawyer representing the class to reach an agreement that we collectively believe is fair for the class members," Hixson said in a statement to the Times. "Now DFEH is trying to disrupt that agreement in a legal filing that is filled with inaccuracies and false allegations. ... We are particularly dismayed that the filing downplays and ignores the efforts we have made with respect to diversity, inclusion, and culture over the past 18 months. We look forward to making our case to the court."

Hixson reiterated that stance late Thursday, noting the progress that Riot has made and that there's been a lack of attention drawn to those improvements.

"As we've described in our responses to the DFEH, the incredible amounts of exposure being alleged in the press are simply unfounded, with no basis in fact," Hixson said.