News | January 5, 2001

Employees sue Microsoft for employment discrimination

Software giant Microsoft Corp. has been hit with a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of current and former black employees, alleging a wide variety of employment discrimination practices at the Redmond, WA-based company.

The suit, which includes seven named current and former employees of Microsoft, was filed in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia January 3 and seeks $5 billion in damages. The suit seeks to include all black African Americans employed by Microsoft since April 27, 1992.

Among the suit's allegations are that Microsoft discriminated against blacks when engaging in performance evaluations, awarding compensation and promotions, and when terminating employees. The suit also alleges that black employees were victims of retaliation by Microsoft after complaining about their treatment.

"Microsoft has discriminated against African American employees who made valuable contributions to the company, but were not treated with the same dignity, respect and compensation as their white counterparts," Willie Gary, a Florida-based attorney who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the employees, said in a prepared statement. "There are glass ceilings and glass walls in place for African Americans at Microsoft. We are stunned and disappointed in their treatment of black employees."

Gary cited Microsoft's black employment figures as evidence that the company does little to hire or retain African Americans. In 1999, for example, Microsoft employed 21,429 people, of which 2.6 percent or 553 were black. Of the firm's 5,155 managers, 1.6 percent or 83 were black.

"These numbers demonstrate to the world that Microsoft is not interested in hiring or promoting blacks," Gary said.

Specifically, the suit alleges a "pattern and practice of race and color discrimination" by Microsoft that includes:

  • Blacks receiving lower scores than whites in performance evaluations because of the undue discretion given to managers to evaluate employees;
  • Dramatic differences in pay for blacks and whites;
  • Promotion policies that were not applied uniformly or fairly, resulting in discrimination against blacks;
  • A corporate wide practice, in which blacks were voluntarily terminated, suffered retaliation or placed in situations of intolerable discrimination, which forced them to resign at a higher rate than white employees.

Microsoft denied that it discriminates against minorities. "Microsoft has a zero tolerance policy toward discrimination in the workplace," Deborah Willingham, vice president, human resources for Microsoft, said in a statement. "We take any allegations of discrimination very seriously and immediately investigate any concern that is raised."

In addition, Willingham asserted that Microsoft has made significant efforts to establish a diversified workforce. "Microsoft works actively to recruit, train and promote minority and women employees. Over the past three years, Microsoft's minority workforce has grown nearly twice as fast as the company's domestic workforce overall. The percentage of minority employees has risen steadily from 16.8% in 1997 to 22.1% of Microsoft's domestic workforce today," Willingham added.

Both Gary and Willingham referred to Microsoft's charitable contributions in their comments about the company. According to Willingham, Microsoft has recently invested nearly $100 million to help stimulate interest among minorities and women in scientific and technical fields. This includes an $86.4 million partnership with the United Negro College Fund's 39 member institutions.

However, Gary contended that this reputation for charitable contributions contrasts with Microsoft's employment practices. "That makes it even more disappointing that they do not treat their black employees respectfully," he said. "This is hypocritical on their part."

Gary, who is based in Stuart, FL and attorney Roy Bucholtz of Reston, Va., filed a discrimination suit against Microsoft in June on behalf of Rahn Jackson, a former Microsoft sales employee, who is alleged to have been repeatedly passed over for promotions despite having 17-years of sales experience. That suit, which is pending before in U.S. District Court in D.C., has been amended to include the six new plaintiffs in the current class action.

With contributions from Steve Tarnoff
Managing Editor,