Microsoft - Discrimination at the Workplace

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Case Details:

Case Code : HROB011
Case Length : 11 Pages
Period : 1997 - 2001
Pub Date : 2001
Teaching Note : Availabl0e
Organization : Microsoft Corporation
Industry : Information Technology
Countries : USA

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"How is Microsoft responsible for my stress disorder? Simple, 12 years of subjecting me to unequal and contradictory treatment, debasement, sexual harassment and outright illegal practices in its hiring, management, and disabilities protocols."

- A former female Microsoft employee, in December 1997.

"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."

- Willie Gary, lawyer of an ex-Microsoft African American employee, in January 2001.

Charges of Discrimination

In January 2001, seven of Microsoft's former and current African-Americans employees filed a discrimination suit against the company. One of the largest discrimination suits ever filed in the US, it alleged racism and plantation mentality1 at their workspace and sought $ 5 billion in damages. Microsoft was accused of discriminating against its employees through performance evaluations, pay packages, promotions, wrongful terminations and retaliation. This suit consolidated all the discriminatory suits filed separately by the seven employees.

The suit was subsequently given the status of a class action,2 extending its reach to Microsoft's vast base of former and current African-American employees.

Thus, all the former and current African-American salaried employees employed by Microsoft (in the US) on or after October 4, 1997 and all the former and present female salaried employees employed by Microsoft on or after February 23, 1999 were included in the suit. The filing was primarily based on the existing case of Rahn Jackson,3 one of the first Microsoft employees to take legal action against Microsoft for racial discrimination.

The plaintiff claimed that Microsoft's employment policies and practices permit its managers to exercise discretion when deciding on evaluations, pay packages, promotions and job selections, resulting in decisions that reveal a race/gender bias. During the early 1990s, many discrimination related suits had been filed against Microsoft. In the Donaldson4 Vs. Microsoft case, the plaintiff alleged that Microsoft discriminated against the Black and female workers by paying them smaller salaries, bonuses and stock options than it paid white males performing the same work. The suit also alleged that Microsoft had even retaliated against Black and female employees who protested against this discrimination.

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1] Plantation mentality is described as an institutionalized racial bias against minorities, more specifically African-American employees. Institutionalized racial bias includes harassment, smaller pay packages, denial of promotions or raises, and retaliations, all on the basis of class/race.

2] A class-action suit refers to a suit filed to protect the interests of a group of individuals who are affected or may be affected by a perceived fraud or misconduct of a similar nature. This could include as few as 20 individuals to as many as millions of people.

3] Rahn Jackson was employed in Microsoft's Washington D.C. office during 1992-2000. In summer 2000, Rahn Jackson filed a suit against Microsoft alleging Bill Gates and Microsoft for violating Title VII 1964 Civil Rights Act.

4] Monique Donaldson was a Black Washington resident, who worked in an unspecified capacity at Microsoft during 1992-96 and served as a manager in MSN Operations Division of the company during 1998-2000. The trial date for the suit was scheduled for April 2002.


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