The tech company is investigating dozens of complaints of discrimination and harassment against female employees that came to light last week when an internal company email chain was leaked to the news site Quartz.
It all started on March 20, when a woman at the company sent an email asking female colleagues for career advice. After six years doing the same job, she said, she didn’t see any opportunities to advance, according to Quartz, which reviewed the emails.
When she told her boss, she said he brushed it off and described it as “flirting.
” When she went to human resources, she said a manager told her there was nothing the company could do about it. Women also complained about getting passed over for promotions and being assigned secretarial work.
By the time Microsoft’s human resources director responded to the email thread on March 29, the list of complaints was 90 pages long. Kathleen Hogan, head of HR for the company, told the group in an email that she would personally investigate each of their claims and that she had notified the company’s executives, according to Quartz.
We must do better,” Hogan wrote in the email thread, according to a company spokesperson. Hogan said Microsoft will organize sessions to hear more about their concerns and to develop a plan to address them.
“While reading some of this is very disheartening, I am proud and encouraged to see people empowered to speak up, say this is not right, and stand together for change.”
A former cybersecurity engineer at Microsoft, Katherine Moussouris, filed the lawsuit in 2015, alleging that managers repeatedly passed her over for promotions in favor of less qualified men. She said bias against women was widespread — that women were often interrupted and excluded from important meetings and that their judgment was “much more likely to be called into question than men’s,” according to court records.
Another female engineers and an IT employee who work at Microsoft later joined the lawsuit as plaintiffs too. Another nine current and former employees shared similar complaints, according to court records.
One woman said she’d pushed for a promotion after returning from maternity leave, but her manager told her he didn’t want to “waste” a promotion on her, in case she became pregnant again. Another employee said she’d asked about a promotion but “was told repeatedly that it was not possible” because it was rare for anyone to reach the next level.
She stayed in the same job for six years while several other men were bumped up.
Microsoft’s lawyers have denied that the company systematically discriminates against women, and pointed out that the federal government has conducted nearly two dozen pay discrimination audits based on the company’s work as a contractor.
The audits only resulted in one violation, according to evidence provided in court records.
Female Microsoft employees filed 118 internal complaints about gender discrimination between 2010 and 2016, according to documents made public in March 2018 as part of the court case. The company only considered one of them to have any merit.
To be sure, not all women have complaints about working at Microsoft. About a dozen female managers who’ve worked for years in Microsoft’s engineering and IT divisions say they’ve had positive experiences there, according to court records.
One employee, who has worked in the IT division for more than ten years, said she’s never experienced or witnessed any gender bias at the company, and that she’s always been fairly compensated for her work.
That would allow them to include all women who worked at the company during a certain time period to join them as plaintiffs, so they would all get compensated if they won. As a class-action case, the women can get a court order that would force Microsoft to adopt and implement new policies to prevent system discrimination.
So far, progress is slow
In June, women at Microsoft experienced a major setback. US District Judge James Robert declined to let the case continue as a class-action lawsuit, saying the group had not provided enough evidence of systemic discrimination, and that their complaints were not similar enough to file a joint lawsuit.
The three listed plaintiffs immediately appealed, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed to hear their case. In the meantime, they must file individual lawsuits in case the appeals court upholds the class-action denial.
“A wide audience is now listening. And you know what? I’m good with that.
Update: This article has been updated with comments from Microsoft’s director of human resources, and clarifies that only three women are currently listed as plaintiffs in the pay discrimination case.