Sexual Harassment in the Video Game Industry Gains Attention in New York and Elsewhere

Almost three years ago, the #MeToo movement began widespread exposure of sexual harassment in the entertainment industry. This expanded to include nearly every other industry in the country, but much of the focus has remained on the film and television businesses. New York City sexual harassment attorneys have extensive experience representing clients in claims for sexual harassment on Wall Street, in television and theater productions, and elsewhere. In the summer of 2020, sexual harassment in the video game industry began to gain greater attention. This could partly be because of the COVID-19 pandemic — as more people stay at home to prevent the spread of the disease, many of them have turned to video games. This has directed more attention not only to the game development companies, but also the competitive side of gaming, commonly known as “esports,” and livestreams hosted by gamers. A June 2020 New York Times report describes widespread allegations of sexual harassment in these parts of the industry.

Most laws that directly address sexual harassment apply specifically to workplaces and employment relationships. Under these laws, sexual harassment is considered to be unlawful discrimination on the basis of sex or gender. This often involves harassment by a supervisor or manager. It could also involve one or more coworkers, clients, customers, or other individuals in situations where the employer knows about the harassment, but fails to act.

As we know from #MeToo, sexual harassment can occur in situations where no direct employment relationship exists. The now-archetypal example, of course, is that of the film producer who demands sexual activity from someone with the accompanying threat — express or implied — to their career prospects if they say no. In those situations, other laws may support a legal claim for sexual harassment, aiding and abetting sexual harassment, or failing to intervene to prevent sexual harassment. This might include claims for negligence or intentional torts, as well as claims based on breach of contract.

The New York Times report addresses how the traditional image of video games as a male-dominated industry can create “toxic geek masculinity,” which can then “lead to sexual abuse and bullying.” Executives of several game developers were included in this summer’s allegations, although employees had already begun coming forward with accounts of alleged sexual harassment and assault in 2018 and 2019. The company that developed one of the most popular esports games in the world, for example, settled a class action that included claims of sexual harassment in late 2019 for $10 million. Three executives at another game developer resigned in July 2020 “amid an investigation into sexual misconduct.”

The June 2020 report moves beyond game developer executives and employees to discuss allegations of sexual harassment and abuse by esports competitors, both at in-person tournaments prior to the current pandemic, and in online interactions on streaming platforms like Twitch. At least one female gamer alleged sexual harassment by the CEO of a talent management agency that represents competitive gamers. The CEO resigned as a result of the allegations. Twitch and other platforms announced investigations of the allegations.

The employment attorneys at Phillips & Associates represent workers in New York City in claims for sexual harassment and other violations of city, state, and federal law. To schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our experienced and skilled team, please contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.

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