Pay disparity between men and women is a huge issue in tech, and it’s not likely to go away anytime soon. Big tech firms such as Google have announced efforts to internally police their own pay policies—but now some local governments are getting involved in the effort: The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) announced plans to force Riot Games (maker of the ultra-popular “League of Legends,” seen above) to give up employee pay data.
“DFEH has broad authority to investigate potential violations of California’s civil rights laws similar to grand jury proceedings,” DFEH Director Kevin Kish wrote in a statement. “When companies fail to cooperate voluntarily with our investigations, including with our investigative discovery, DFEH will exercise its right to seek assistance from the courts. Doing so ensures our investigations are informed by relevant evidence and completed without unnecessary delay.”
For its part, Riot Games has pushed back against the allegations of pay disparity and noncompliance, insisting that it’s been working in good faith. “We’ve promptly responded to the DFEH’s requests, and have produced over 2,500 pages of documents and several thousand lines of pay data so far,” the company wrote in a statement to The Verge. “We’ve also made several recent requests that the DFEH participate in a call with us to address their requests. To date, these requests have been unanswered, so we’re frankly disappointed to see the DFEH issue a press release alleging that we’ve been non-cooperative.”
In May, around 150 Riot Games employees staged a very public walkout over the company’s policy of forced arbitration. That followed Riot Games forcing two employees into arbitration after five current or former employees sued the company over violations of California’s Equal Pay Act. Last year, gaming website Kotaku released a wide-ranging investigation in which dozens of employees described a sexist culture; it included this kicker:
“Women currently and formerly employed by Riot say they have been passed up for promotions that men received, repeatedly questioned about their gamer credibility, hit on often, regularly insulted or talked over in meetings and, in general, systematically disadvantaged by cultural ideas of what an ideal Riot employee looks and acts like.”
Although Riot has pledged to change, it can take quite a long time to shift corporate culture. For example, Uber promised to fundamentally adjust its culture after a very, very bad 2017 that included a massive multi-million-dollar settlement with women and people of color who accused the company of workplace discrimination and harassment; those efforts are still underway, and Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi recently said that some increased regulatory burden on tech firms is deserved.
If the past few months have shown anything, it’s that employee action (including walkouts, lawsuits, and other measures) can at least begin to change a company’s management and culture. It’s more questionable whether a government entity can truly force cultural change and pay equality—although it seems that California (and the DFEH) is willing to give it a try.