Riot Games, the publisher behind the hit video games “League of Legends” and “Valorant,” announced Tuesday the third-party investigation it commissioned into allegations of misconduct by CEO Nicolas Laurent found no evidence of wrongdoing and recommended Laurent receive no sanctions from the company. The allegations of misconduct first surfaced in a January 7 lawsuit filed by Sharon O’Donnell, a former executive assistant at the company, which is still ongoing. O’Donnell alleged that Laurent had created a hostile work environment and conditioned O’Donnell’s employment on her reciprocation of unwanted sexual advances.
The news, shared internally with Riot employees, was followed shortly by an email from Laurent to the company’s staff — the executive’s first statement on the matter. The Washington Post obtained a copy of both messages.
“It’s important you hear this from me directly: The allegations of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation involving me are not true,” Laurent, popularly known as Nicolo, wrote in his email. “Nothing of that nature, or even remotely close to it, ever happened.”
The company’s decision and Laurent’s email came the same day Riot filed a request to speed up court proceedings in an effort to ultimately move the case to arbitration. According to the application, filed to the Los Angeles County Superior Court and obtained by The Post, Riot’s request to set a status conference — in which the judge would provide guidance on how the case should proceed — was prompted by alleged witness tampering by the plaintiff and others on her behalf.
The new filing from Riot includes the company’s and Laurent’s response to O’Donnell’s initial complaint. In it, the parties “vigorously and generally deny the allegations therein.” Referring to the allegation that Laurent asked whether O’Donnell “could handle him when they were alone at his house,” the defendants write that “this type of language does not appear anywhere in the years’ worth of emails and texts between Laurent and Plaintiff.”
Riot’s filing also includes two anonymous declarations detailing incidents of alleged harassment by the plaintiff. The anonymity is premised on “concern about additional harassment from Plaintiff and the press.” The filing also includes a copy of O’Donnell’s 2017 arbitration agreement with Riot Games.
On Tuesday, O’Donnell’s team issued their response. “None of what is said, in the paperwork filed by Riot Games and Nicolo Laurent this morning is true. We are filing our response with the court, tomorrow.”
In the statement sent Tuesday to Riot employees, the special committee tasked with reviewing the results of the third-party investigation into Laurent outlined a timeline for the investigation, the rules governing the work of the special committee, and ultimately, the group’s recommendation that no action be taken. The three-person special committee, a part of Riot’s board of directors, is made up of Youngme Moon, a professor at Harvard Business School and the only publicly-named member of Riot Games’s board. She is joined by two male C-Level executives at the Chinese tech giant Tencent, which owns Riot Games. The company declined to name these members of the special committee.
In its statement, the committee explains that it reached its verdict by reviewing the work of the third-party law firm’s investigation with two criteria in mind. First, it considered whether there was evidence of misconduct. Second, it aimed to assess whether any element of the interaction between Laurent and O’Donnell “could have been interpreted as harassing, discriminatory, or retaliatory.”
“We concluded that there was no evidence that Laurent harassed, discriminated, or retaliated against the plaintiff,” reads the statement. “We have therefore reached the conclusion that, at the current time … no action should be taken against Laurent.”
Tuesday’s announcements follow reports on Monday that Alienware, a gaming hardware company, had withdrawn from a partnership with Riot Games, citing problems with the publisher’s public image. The allegations against Laurent factored into Alienware’s decision, according to gaming news website Dot Esports.
During the investigation, Laurent was not placed on leave and continued to act as the company’s CEO. He cooperated fully, according to the special committee statement.
“This is not a recommendation we take lightly,” wrote the special committee members. “In cases involving high-ranking executives, we recognize that power dynamics can often give rise to behaviors and biases that infect the experiences of others within the organization in toxic ways. … Most cases of this nature are not black and white; they fall into the gray. However, this was not one of those cases. In this case, we were simply unable to find any evidence that would justify a sanction of any kind against Laurent.”
According to the special committee’s statement, the investigation into Laurent’s alleged misconduct began shortly after January 7, when O’Donnell’s lawsuit was filed. Riot retained Seyfarth Shaw LLP to conduct the probe. (The company is represented by a separate firm, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP in their case against O’Donnell).
In O’Donnell’s initial lawsuit, she alleges that Laurent made inappropriate sexual remarks, including one about the “tight fit” of his underwear. At one point, O’Donnell alleges in the filing that the CEO invited her to work from his home when his wife wouldn’t be there. O’Donnell claims her refusal resulted in hostility from Laurent and the limiting of her responsibilities and opportunities at work, ultimately resulting in her termination. The filing also includes claims that Laurent made demeaning comments about O’Donnell’s gender and femininity throughout the course of her employment at Riot.
The special committee statement notes that any “additional material evidence” would merit the reopening of the investigation. In a list of rules governing the committee’s approach to the investigation, included in the statement, the members note: “The Committee understands that it may sometimes have to make decisions that have negative consequences for senior executives under investigation. The Committee is committed to impartiality in this regard.”
On February 9, O’Donnell’s filing was first covered in the press. Riot’s response was unusually sharp-elbowed.
“The plaintiff was dismissed from the company over seven months ago based on multiple well-documented complaints from a variety of people. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false,” a Riot spokesperson said in February. In a follow-up statement, Riot clarified further: “This individual was terminated following more than a dozen complaints from both employees and external partners and after multiple coaching discussions to try and address these concerns.”
A statement sent by O’Donnell’s attorney in February disputed Riot’s characterization.
“Ms. O’Donnell strongly denies that her wrongful termination had anything to do with complaints made by employees or external partners,” wrote O’Donnell’s lawyers at the firm of Sottile Baltaxe. “She alleges that she was never made aware of any such complaints. Nor was there any ‘coaching.’ Instead, there were sexist comments made about her ‘tone.’ She alleges that she was wrongfully terminated because she refused to give in to Nicholas Laurent’s sexual overtures. She also alleges that she was also wrongfully terminated because she was a strong woman in a male dominated sexist company where women are devalued.”
O’Donnell’s allegations are not the first leveled at the company or its employees. In 2018, the company’s “boy’s club” bro culture was the subject of a Kotaku exposé. The story led to a class-action gender discrimination lawsuit, as well as two separate inquiries led by California state regulators.
Laurent was not the subject of any of those allegations, though recent reporting has tied him to executives at Riot who were accused of inappropriate workplace conduct and allowed to return to work.
In his note to staff, Laurent thanked his staff for their patience and understanding despite his silence on the subject. “My words carry weight as CEO, and speaking to the allegations could have unintentionally impacted the investigation before it was done and before the Special Committee made its decision,” he wrote.