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Microsoft faces legal action amid accusations of discrimination and harassment

Microsoft faces legal action amid accusations of discrimination and harassment

Plaintiffs' attorneys are pushing to proceed as a class action lawsuit, which could cover more than 8,000 women

Women at Microsoft working in US-based technical jobs filed 238 internal complaints about gender discrimination or sexual harassment between 2010 and 2016, according to court filings made public on Monday.

The figure was cited by plaintiffs suing Microsoft for systematically denying pay raises or promotions to women at the world's largest software company. Microsoft denies it had any such policy.

The lawsuit, filed in Seattle federal court in 2015, is attracting wider attention after a series of powerful men have left or been fired from their jobs in entertainment, the media and politics for sexual misconduct.

Plaintiffs' attorneys are pushing to proceed as a class action lawsuit, which could cover more than 8,000 women. More details about Microsoft's human resources practices were made public on Monday in legal filings submitted as part of that process.

The two sides are exchanging documents ahead of trial, which has not been scheduled.

Out of 118 gender discrimination complaints filed by women at Microsoft, only one was deemed "founded" by the company, according to details in the unsealed court filings.

Attorneys for the women called the number of complaints "shocking" in the court filings and the response by Microsoft's investigations team "lackluster."

Companies generally keep information about internal discrimination complaints private, so it is unclear how the number of complaints at Microsoft compares to competitors.

Microsoft said in court filings that the plaintiffs did not identify practices that impact enough employees to warrant a class action, and that it spends more than US$55 million per year to promote diversity and inclusion. The company had about 74,000 US employees at the end of last year.

Microsoft said the plaintiffs cannot cite one example of a pay or promotion problem in which Microsoft's investigations team should have found a violation of company policy, but did not. A Microsoft spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment.

US District Judge James Robart has not yet ruled on the plaintiffs' request for class action status.

A review of federal court cases filed between 2006 and 2016 revealed hundreds containing sexual harassment allegations where companies used common civil litigation tactics to keep potentially damning information under wraps.

Microsoft had argued that the number of womens' human resources complaints should be kept secret because publicising the outcomes could deter employees from reporting future abuses.

A court-appointed official found that scenario "far too remote a competitive or business harm" to justify keeping the information sealed.

(Reporting by Dan Levine; Editing by Bill Rigby and Edwina Gibbs)


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