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Tabletop accessories maker Wyrmwood responds to allegations of mishandled sexual assault claims

CEO Douglas Costello apologises for initial “tone deaf” video response.

Product shot of Wyrmwood Gaming's hex table in a mock-up living room environment.
Image credit: Wyrmwood Gaming

Luxury tabletop accessory maker Wyrmwood Gaming has released a now-privated video and accompanying statement responding to claims that the company mishandled an alleged sexual assault in 2020. Wyrmwood privated the recent video after customers seemingly criticised it for being "tone deaf and harmful", according to the company’s latest public statement, but continued to deny the initial allegations.

The allegations spring from a pair of tweets from mid-February (now protected) from married couple Seth and Liz Malony, who claimed that a mutual friend was sexually assaulted by a Wyrmwood employee in 2020. According to a statement provided to Dicebreaker by the Maloneys, they then asked a YouTube influencer not to promote Wyrmwood’s latest crowdfunding campaign, which prompted them to reach out to the company and confirm the allegations. Wyrmwood’s HR department then allegedly launched an investigation before publishing a response on February 21st.

In the 14-minute video, Wyrmwood co-founder and CEO Douglas Costello attempts to establish a timeline of events and official actions, accompanied by Basile Antoine, chief business officer and head of human resources, and Wyrmwood’s attorney Frank E. Biedak. The editing and handheld filming style match the company’s Wyrm Lyfe series, which usually take a humorous and lightly scripted approach to capturing work culture within the company. At the beginning, Wyrmwood states that it “views any allegation of improper conduct, including but not limited to sexual assault, as a significant allegation, takes it very seriously, and always has”.

Wyrmwood’s accompanying written statement claims that an anonymous employee “began spreading allegations” of sexual assault on January 7th 2020 to their co-workers but did not inform management. On the same day, another employee and the accused both separately contacted management to raise the issue. The accused denied the accusations and, according to Wyrmwood, said this was “creating a hostile work environment”.

“For me, it was a very simple call,” Costello said in Wyrmwood’s video response. “This is all inappropriate. It was inappropriate for this employee to go tell coworkers that this guy was a rapist - there’s no police report, there’s no evidence as far as I know. This other guy, he could be a rapist and he had engaged in toxic workplace behaviour previously. I fired both of them immediately.”

Antoine then adds that a third employee flagged the issue to management but was not fired. It remains unclear if Wyrmwood had a functioning human resources department at the time of the incident, as Costello claims that “when you’re in a small company you don’t have dedicated HR, dedicated HR staff”, which left him to “make a call”. Wyrmwood’s statement contradicts Costello by stating that management relayed the incident to HR on January 8th. It also states that no employees were fired until after the owners of the company conducted an investigation and met to discuss what actions should be taken.

Dicebreaker reached out to Wyrmwood multiple times for more information, including confirmation of the company’s HR situation during January 2020 and whether documentation of the company’s investigation could be shared. The company responded on February 24th saying it takes the allegations seriously before linking the two public statements.

Both the video and the statement released on February 21st claim that a separate investigation, apparently carried out by Antoine after the allegations gained public attention online, discovered that the alleged sexual assault had allegedly occurred on Wyrmwood’s property - a fact the company’s management initially claimed they were not aware of when Costello fired the two employees. Wyrmwood issued a correction to its statement on February 22nd that “after further investigation, the CEO did indeed receive an email a week following the incident (January 13th), which noted the event was on company property. The CEO missed that detail, and was incorrect in stating that we were not notified of the location until present day.” Wyrmwood said it has now filed a police report and is cooperating with authorities.

Throughout the video, Costello, along with Antoine and co-owner Edward Maranville, frequently mention their frustration that the employee raising the accusations did not file a police report and created a “toxic workplace environment” with their actions. On February 18th, an individual named Andrew Overbeck posted a short video to Twitter in which he claims to be the employee fired for initially raising the accusations.

Overbeck claims that he met with Wyrmwood supervisor Chris Gates to report the alleged sexual assault in what he assumed was a “protected conversation”. He says Costello fired him “within the hour” for “creating shop drama” and was later informed by other employees that management was threatening immediate termination to anyone who discussed the events. Dicebreaker contacted Overbeck and Wyrmwood to address these specific claims. The company declined to comment further.

Wyrmwood later took down its response video on February 24th and released a second statement from Costello explaining its actions:

"We reacted viscerally out of anger and disbelief at the false allegations that were spreading online, and we did what we always do - post a video addressing it to defend ourselves. However, many of our partners and customers have contacted us and have explained that the video was tone deaf and harmful. We agree with them and apologize. This is not about us - the victim of this incident should be the focus and they may wish to have privacy.”

Costello went on to write that the company has made "very significant investments in HR and Safety and will continue to do so", along with a promise to donate money to a yet-unnamed charity ostensibly focused on sexual assault victims and legal justice.

Charity organisation Take This issued a statement on February 22nd wherein it formally ended The Hope Shield partnership with Wyrmwood, which began in 2016. The organisation said the video and written response were “troubling and fall outside the ethical standards of Take This”.

Wyrmwood has conducted virtually all of its crowdfunding projects on Kickstarter since 2013, relying on the platform's relatively risk-free accrual of capital for its luxury goods. Kickstarter senior director of communications Kate Bernyk provided an official response on February 21st: “We are aware of the deeply disturbing allegations against Wyrmwood and we strongly encourage their leadership to take every step necessary to investigate possible abuse in their shop.”

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Chase Carter avatar

Chase Carter

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Chase is a freelance journalist and media critic. He enjoys the company of his two cats and always wants to hear more about that thing you love. Follow him on Twitter for photos of said cats and retweeted opinions from smarter folks.

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