Does Microsoft Corp. discriminate against women? A group of female employees filed a federal lawsuit in 2015 claiming that Microsoft policies or procedures systematically deny women pay raises and promotions. They are hoping a judge will certify the lawsuit as a class action, allowing them to represent over 8,000 women who may have been adversely affected.
The suit hasn’t been certified a class action yet. It’s still in a stage called “discovery,” when the parties seek out evidence from their opponents and third parties using subpoenas, depositions and other methods. Discovery can be a challenging part of a lawsuit, with one party or the other sometimes arguing that the process goes too far.
As part of discovery in this case, the plaintiffs apparently asked for any and all human resources files related to internal complaints of gender discrimination or sexual harassment. Microsoft argued that making the outcome of such complaints public might serve to deter employees from making complaints. The court-appointed official who reviewed the files disagreed and unsealed the internal complaints.
According to Reuters, Microsoft received a total of 238 internal complaints of sex discrimination or sexual harassment between 2010 and 2016. Of those, 118 were apparently involved alleged sex discrimination. Of those 118 complaints, Microsoft investigators only considered one to be “founded.”
The plaintiffs’ lawyers called the number of complaints “shocking” and criticized Microsoft’s apparently “lackluster” investigation process. However, it’s important to keep in mind that we have no concrete idea of how the number of complaints received by Microsoft compare to the number received by similar companies. As of 2017, Microsoft had around 74,000 U.S. employees.
In its defense, Microsoft said that it spends over $55 million each year on inclusion and diversity programs. It also claimed that the plaintiffs had failed to point to a single case that Microsoft investigators ruled unfounded that should not have been.
As we said, the case is still in an early stage. The plaintiffs will be given a chance to make a thorough review of the internal complaint files, and they may argue that some or many of the complaints should have been given more consideration. To win, they will ultimately have to show that a Microsoft policy or procedure had the intent or effect of discriminating against women.