Microsoft continues workplace behavior improvements

Microsoft says it is working hard to make the tech giant a place where all employees feel 'safe, valued and respected'

Microsoft says it is working hard to make the tech giant a place where all employees feel "safe, valued and respected."

"We do not tolerate inappropriate behavior in the workplace," a spokesperson told FOX Business on Wednesday.  

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The continued efforts come following 238 internal complaints filed in a lawsuit in Seattle federal court in 2015 by Katherine Moussouris, a computer security researcher who worked at the company from 2007-2014, and two other female employees.

 UNEARTHED INTERNAL MICROSOFT COMPLAINTS CLAIM WOMEN WERE ‘ABUSED AND DEGRAGED’

The suit, which was dismissed last year, has gained attention following the high-profile split of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda. New reports have claimed Gates pursued several women in his office during his marriage and even had an alleged affair with a female staffer.

The complaints, made between 2010 and 2016, allege that female Microsoft employees were "ignored, abused and degraded" and were also called "p–y" and "c–t" by their male co-workers. 

The suit accused Microsoft of having an "exclusionary ‘boys’ club" atmosphere" that was "rife with sexual harassment" and that the company allegedly discriminated against women when it came to pay and promotions. 

Approximately 108 female U.S.-based technical employees detailed complaints of sexual harassment, while 118 employees made complaints about gender discrimination, eight made complaints of retaliation, and three made complaints of pregnancy discrimination .

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Complaints outlined in the suit include one female staffer who says she was allegedly sexually harassed by three different male employees at a Microsoft training, another that claimed a man had groped four different woman at a work function, though an internal investigation found the male employee didn’t breach anti-harassment rules, and another complained that employees had code-named a project "Wrecking Ball", named after the provocative video by Miley Cyrus, where workers had allegedly compiled an e-mail list titled "Working Backwards" that "stereotypes and degrades women."

Additionally, one woman wrote to a female superior that the "good ol boy culture and way of behaving at meetings is alive and well" while another female staffer called Microsoft's workplace "bro culture" that was "not easy or natural for women to fit into." Out of 118 gender discrimination complaints filed by women at Microsoft, only one was deemed "founded" by the company, according to the filing.

Attorneys for the women described the number of complaints as "shocking", and said the response by Microsoft’s investigations team was "lackluster." The attorneys pushed for a class-action lawsuit, which would have covered more than 8,000 women and pursued damages against Microsoft. 

However, the motion was denied in November 2020 by a federal judge in Seattle, according to the New York Post. The plaintiffs appealed that decision and lost. Microsoft reportedly said in a statement following the case's dismissal that the company had a "fair and robust system in place to investigate employee concerns and take appropriate action when necessary." 

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Microsoft told FOX Business that the allegations raised in the complaints "do not reflect the culture of inclusion" that the company aspires to.

"As we shared publicly in 2019, we’ve taken additional actions to improve the investigation process for our employees when there are workplace behavior concerns," Microsoft added.  

According to a memo from CEO Satya Nadella obtained by Quartz in 2019, those actions included adding human resource employees to enhance "listening capacity" and creating an Employee Advocacy Team to focus on assisting employees through a workplace investigation. The company also added investigators to its global team to pursue investigations more quickly, said it would develop company-wide disciplinary guidelines for work-related misbehavior, would relay investigation findings to managers, and require them to enforce a recommended range of discipline accordingly.

Microsoft also promised to be more transparent about workplace investigation outcomes, noting it would publish an annual report beginning in fiscal year 2020 that would give employees information about concerns being raised, how often violations are found, and the types of discipline being imposed. The company also said it would add additional data surrounding career progression in its annual report about pay equity and representation.

In order to increase accountability, Nadella said that performance surrounding diversity and inclusion would play more of a factor in rewards and compensation for all senior leaders at general manager and above going forward.