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Report: Contractors at Nintendo of America face alleged sexism, harassment, and pay inequity

Update: Nintendo of America president Doug Bowser has promised that NoA is now "actively investigating" the recent claims of harassment and sexism at the company.

Contract workers at Nintendo of America (NoA) have come forward with allegations that describe a corporate culture where sexism is common. A new report from Kotaku details how multiple employees, some of whom have been around since the Nintendo WiiU era to the present Nintendo Switch generation, have had their own experiences with sexism and harassment at the company. 

One anonymous employee, going under the name "Hannah," informed Kotaku of an incident involving a male translator who was making inappropriate sexual comments in explicit detail. In escalating the situation with Aerotek management, she was allegedly told to be less outspoken, and blamed by her work friends for reporting the incident. Hannah further said that after the translator remained employed and only faced sexual harassment training as a repercussion, she left the company.

Nintendo uses several staffing companies to bring in its staff, and one of those is Aerotek, who has since reorganized into Aston Carter. 

The translator was one of many several experiences of sexist culture at Nintendo, according to Hannah. "There was a male full-time employee that was constantly making really gross jokes and comments, but he was the friend of everybody there," she recalled. She and other female employees felt uncomfortable hearing the employees' jokes, but didn't bring it up for fear of retaliation. "Everybody loved him, [...] we didn’t say anything because if you did, you were called overly sensitive.”

Several employees explicitly named product tester Melvin Forrest as someone they had uncomfortable experiences with, alleging that he made inappropriate advances towards them. Associates would warn each other to stay away from Forrest's desk, according to former contract tester Chris Ollis, and former tester Valerie Allison added that many felt they had to stay on Forrest's good side. 

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Image via Nintendo Careers website.

"If you were friendly with him, you are more likely to be brought back sooner or less likely to be laid off,” said Allision. The employment status of Forrest, whose credits include Mario Kart: Double Dash!! and Metroid Primeis currently unknown.

Full-time Nintendo employees being inappropriate to contractors was said to be common. In one instances, a senior tester was allegedly stalking a former contractor from between summer 2011 and February 2012. This tester sent calls and text messages to her phone said to be "disturbing" by one witness, and the contractor frequently had panic attacks and cried at her desk. "He said verbatim that he would get me fired if I reported it,” she told Kotaku. 

Hannah and other contractors also told instances of queerphobia while being employed at Nintendo. When she just started working at the company in 2012, Hannah was hit on by a backup coordinator described by Kotaku as "significantly older," and expressed dismay upon learning that she was a lesbian. Other male employees were said to have ignored her repeated statements of not liking men, and asked her if she was "sure." 

Another queer employee was reprimanded by Aerotek for holding hands with a female tester she was dating at the time during their shared lunch break. According to her, she had violated the company's 'no-touching policy,' though she argued that straight couples never seemed to receive the same warning when engaging in public displays of affection.

Nintendo and Aston Carter's troubles with the NLRB

Recently, Aerotek (now Aston Carter) has been explicitly stated in two worker complaints to the National Labor Relations Board. In both complaints, Aston Carter and NoA were accused by anonymous employees of retaliating against contract employees attempting to discuss pay wages and allegedly fired an employee for attempting unionization efforts.

In 2021, following the reports of sexism and harassment at Activision Blizzard, Nintendo's Doug Bowser criticized the company's actions. "I find these accounts distressing and disturbing. They run counter to my values as well as Nintendo’s beliefs, values and policies,” wrote Bowser in a company-wide email at the time. 

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Multiple contractors also informed Kotaku of alleged pay inequity for contractors. Hannah stated that she'd been working at Nintendo for nearly a decade making $16/hr while a male junior contractor was making $19/hr. It was only after several weeks of pursuing a pay increase that she reached $18/hr. 

A former product tester for Nintendo alleged that the chances of transitioning from a contractor to full-time employee were slim for women employees. "It's usually guys who get promoted," said the anonymous employee. "They’re usually all friends. They watch the Super Bowl together.”

Allison had asked her Aerotek managers how she could be promoted to a full-time status, but the answers provided were more about connections than worker output. "It was things like, ‘You got to get more face time with this guy. I’m going to invite you to lunch, you know, with so-and-so. Make sure you talk about these kinds of things,” she said. "Nothing that was specific work-related things."

One anonymous contractor who tested Nintendo 3DS and WiiU titles said working at Nintendo was "lots of favoritism, cronyism. The assumption was that if a woman was doing well, it was because she was friends with the right people.”

A former tester who worked on Nintendo's Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild said that remaining at the company, and her various experiences there, showed her that loyalty to a company can only go so far. "You're just a disposable commodity," she said. "And you’re reminded that if you’re not willing to do something…someone else would love to have your spot.”

Reading the comments from Nintendo of America's contractors is a reminder that the games industry still has a ways to go in making itself a better work environment for employees of all stripes. This past summer has had no shortage of stories about the successful formation of unions and studios declaring they've ended their pay disparities. But there's clearly still work to be done, particularly for the largest publishers in the industry. 

Game Developer has reached out to Nintendo for a comment, and will update this story when the company responds.

Update: Kotaku has obtained and verified an internal companywide message sent by Nintendo of America president Doug Bowser acknowledging the recent report. Bowser told current Nintendo employees that the company was taking the investigations seriously, and that the company has "strict policies designed to protect our employees and associates from inappropriate conduct and expect full compliance with these policies by all who work for or with us.”

“We have and will always investigate any allegations we become aware of, and we are actively investigating these most recent claims," continued Bowser. "Please remember that our HR teams are here to support you. "If you experience, have experienced, witness, or have witnessed anything concerning such behavior that is contrary to our Standards of Conduct, employee handbook, or Company Values, please immediately contact your HR Business Partner.”

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