Photographer: Mike Kane/Bloomberg

Three Women Suing Microsoft for Bias Want to Add 8,630 Peers

Updated on
  • ‘Women are ignored, abused, or degraded,’ they tell U.S. judge
  • Company defends itself saying data has been mischaracterized

A lawsuit accusing Microsoft Corp. of discriminating against women in technical and engineering roles is poised to grow a lot bigger if it wins class-action status.

With the technology sector awash in challenges to white male dominance, the three women spearheading the case against Microsoft told a Seattle federal judge they want to represent about 8,630 peers who have worked for the company since 2012.

The women said their expert consultants have determined that discrimination at the Redmond, Washington-based company cost female employees more than 500 promotions and $100 million to $238 million in pay, according to Oct. 27 court filings. They also accused the software maker of maintaining “an abusive, toxic ‘boy’s club’ atmosphere, where women are ignored, abused, or degraded.”

Microsoft said it strongly disagrees with the allegations, saying the filings “mischaracterize data and other information.”

Similar cases brought by female engineers are pending against Twitter Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Uber Technologies Inc. The Microsoft case, filed in September 2015, may be the first to become a class action, with a hearing on the request for group status set for Feb. 9.

Sexual Harassment

In affidavits filed with the court, current and former female employees of Microsoft cite instances of male co-workers discounting what they had to say at meetings and sexually harassing them. The alleged harassment included talking about their bodies, staring at their breasts, and organizing an Xbox party that included scantily clad women dancing on tables.

Microsoft has denied the women’s claims that men are paid better and get promoted more often. It cited an in-house study in 2016 that found that women earned 99.9 cents for every dollar earned by men.

The women call the study a “sham,” saying in a court filing that the company purposely “cooked” the numbers by including other factors in the analysis that negated the effect of the alleged gender discrimination.

Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella said in 2014 that the difference between base pay for employees of different genders and races was “within 0.5 percent.”

‘Good Karma’

But he got in trouble when, speaking at a women’s technology conference in 2014, he said women should take it as a matter of faith that they will be paid fairly and said that not asking for raises is “good karma.”

Later, in a company email cited in the lawsuit he acknowledged that the company needed to improve its hiring practices and culture.

“These numbers are not good enough … and especially in engineering,” he wrote, adding that the company needed more training to promote “an inclusive culture.”

Last year, Microsoft said it would tie executive bonuses to workforce diversity goals after the company saw a second consecutive year of declines in the percentage of women employees.

Microsoft said Monday it is committed to “building a diverse and inclusive workforce where all employees have the chance to succeed.”

“While we’ve made important progress over the years including increasing diverse representation and expanding training, we are constantly learning and working to improve,” a spokeswoman said in an email.

The case is Moussouris v. Microsoft Corp., 2:15-cv-01483, U.S. District Court, Western District of Washington (Seattle).

— With assistance by Dina Bass

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