High on Life has been topping the charts on Game Pass.
A former employee sued Justin Roiland’s Squanch Games, maker of the recent Xbox Game Pass hit High On Life, back in 2018 over alleged sexual harassment, discriminaton, and wrongful termination. According to court documents, the studio denied the claims but later settled, and the lawsuit, while old, raises questions about the work culture at Squanch Games, especially after co-founder Roiland was recently revealed to be facing felony domestic abuse charges from 2020.
The lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court in August 2018 on behalf of former Squanch Games designer Sarah Doukakos, and alleges she was sexually harassed and belittled by then technical director Jeff Dixon. It further alleges that despite numerous complaints to her managers, including co-founder and then chief operating officer, Tanya Watson, the behavior was never addressed. Instead, the lawsuit claims Doukakos was fired for poor performance and then pressured by Watson into signing a liability release as part of her severance package.
Doukakos and Watson did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Dixon referred Kotaku to Squanch Games for comment.
“Squanch Games is committed to creating an inclusive and supportive work environment for our team,” a spokesperson for Squanch Games told Kotaku in an emailed statement. “We don’t publicly disclose personnel matters, and we stand by the decision we made in 2017, not to reveal the confidential information as it relates to this case.”
According to the lawsuit, Dixon would force unwanted hugs on Doukakos, question her intelligence and competence, and once told her a t-shirt she wore stating “The Future is Female” made him sad. The lawsuit also states that Doukakos told her managers about the problems, even going so far as to request one of them, Erich Meyr, currently Squanch Games chief design officer, present her game development ideas to Dixon instead so they would be taken seriously.
The lawsuit also alleges that another manager, Anthony Bosco, told Watson about the problems but that she just “sighed” in response. Things allegedly didn’t go any better when Doukakos spoke to Watson directly. The lawsuit reads:
On August 11, 2017, Plaintiff spoke to Watson and expressed her issues with Mr. Dixon, including the unwanted touching and how Dixon would treat Plaintiff differently because she was female. In response, Watson told Plaintiff, “that’s just how this generation of guys are” and instructed plaintiff to sit quietly, take notes, and to smile whenever the males, including Dixon, were speaking. Plaintiff explicitly told Watson that Plaintiff should not have to act differently as a woman to get heard.
Meyr and Bosco did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
2019's Trover Saves the Universe was Squanch Games’ third release and featured Justin Roiland’s voice acting.
The lawsuit goes on to allege that, despite receiving positive performance feedback from her managers (including Watson) in August, she was put on a performance improvement plan the following month. During a “crunch” period that followed, the lawsuit says she worked 12-hour days while also pushing back on certain content being designed for the game that allegedly included scenes analogous to rape and remarks denigrating women. While the lawsuit doesn’t specify what the project was, a former employee told Kotaku that the project in question was Squanch Games’ 2019 action platformer, Trover Saves the Universe.
Doukakos was finally fired on November 1 over performance issues, but the lawsuit alleges it was actually in retaliation for her complaints. It even claims that Watson pressured Doukakos into signing a release of all claims against the studio in order to receive her final paycheck and severance package. While Squanch Games’ court filings in the case deny all the allegations against it, the two sides eventually settled in September 2019. It’s unclear what the terms of that settlement were. Dixon left the studio shortly after Doukakos was fired and Watson left in February 2021.
While Roiland is not mentioned at all in the lawsuit, he has been CEO of Squanch Games since co-founding the studio with Watson in 2016. Yesterday, as first reported by NBC News, it was revealed that Roiland was facing two charges of felony domestic abuse from January 2020, one for domestic battery and another for false imprisonment. He pleaded not guilty to both, but there is currently no trial date.
Meanwhile, High on Life, Squanch Games’ latest release, was reportedly Xbox’s biggest Game Pass launch of 2022. Like the hit animated show Roiland co-created, Rick and Morty, the game has been divisive over its gross humor and drawn out antics, which some love but others have found incredibly grating.
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