The tally of complaints filed by women in U.S. technical roles at Microsoft between 2010 and 2016 was part of an unsealing of documents filed by plaintiffs in an ongoing lawsuit against the company.
Female Microsoft employees in U.S. technical roles filed 118 complaints of gender discrimination with the company between 2010 and 2016, according to court documents. Microsoft’s internal investigation unit concluded just one of those complaints was “founded,” according to the documents filed by plaintiffs in an ongoing suit against the company.
Adding in complaints of sexual harassment, retaliation and pregnancy discrimination, women at the Redmond-based technology giant formally raised issues about their treatment to human resources a total of 238 times, according to the court documents. The documents didn’t indicate how many of the total complaints were determined by Microsoft investigators to be “founded.”
The scope of women’s complaints against the company was made public Monday as part of an unsealing of documents in the lawsuit. Three women, current and former Microsoft employees, are suing the company, alleging systemic gender discrimination against women in engineering jobs that led to lower pay and a stunted pace of promotions.
The disparity between the number of complaints filed and how many Microsoft found to be policy violations illustrates a key divide in the way many female employees view the company’s culture and the inclusive setting that Microsoft says it is striving to create.
Microsoft’s case is one of many piling up against giant companies in the technology industry, which has come under fire in recent years for its dearth of female and minority employees and for a workplace culture that some say is hostile toward those groups.
The lawsuit shines a light on Microsoft’s internal human-resource procedures and employee frustrations, workplace aspects that corporations often work to keep out of public view. But in Microsoft’s case, a federal court determined the details did not need to be sealed.
The plaintiffs’ suit seeks class-action status, a designation that could add more than 8,600 women to the case. They say women in the class lost out on up to $238 million in pay and 500 promotions because of widespread discrimination, largely within the company’s performance-review process that determines pay and promotions for employees.
The plaintiffs argue that men in similar roles with similar job performance were promoted faster and given more raises than their female colleagues.
Microsoft has said a class action isn’t warranted because there is no common cause for the employees’ complaints and plaintiffs have not identified systemic gender discrimination. The company has denied that systemic bias is taking place through its employee-review process.
In court documents, Microsoft also has stood behind its internal investigative process, which involves a four-person team that looks into each complaint filed with the company. In a statement Tuesday, a Microsoft spokesperson said all employee concerns are taken seriously and that the company has a “fair and robust system in place” to investigate them.
But in a filing with the court seeking class-action status, plaintiffs claim that employees have “little faith” in the investigative process. In some cases, the plaintiffs say, investigators found that some of the alleged harassment did occur, but “did not rise to the level of a policy violation.”
Microsoft has said that corrective action might be taken even if no policy violation was found, and that the person who filed the complaint might not be informed.
A log of many of the results of the investigations, also included in the unsealed court documents, showed the resolution of complaints is classified in a few ways. It is nearly always “founded” or “unfounded,” with a few designated as “closed,” “administratively closed,” “inconclusive” or left blank.
A report from an expert hired by Microsoft as part of the lawsuit said that complaints are either “founded/substantiated policy violation or not,” suggesting that founded means the company decided someone did violate a stated policy.
The crux of the lawsuit alleges systemic gender discrimination, but it also addresses sexual harassment in some situations.
Women in technical roles reported 108 incidents of alleged sexual harassment and assault to the company between 2010 and 2016, court documents say — separate from the 118 gender discrimination complaints. Three women alleged they were sexually assaulted or raped by male colleagues during that time.
The log of findings did not show all those cases but indicated that at least 15 sexual harassment complaints during that time were determined to be “founded.”
The one gender discrimination case that was classified as “founded” was filed in 2016. No other details were disclosed.
Newly unredacted sections of the plaintiffs’ court filings, which were first reported by Reuters on Tuesday, also show the frustration of some women, citing emails they wrote over the years to managers and executives.
“Our organization is actually empowering a culture of exclusion,” one wrote.
“This cultural backdrop has had a real effect on me,” wrote another, pointing to employees being called degrading terms for women. “I consider myself to be a strong person. I have a strong track record of performance over a long tenure. I should not feel powerless. But I do.”
Microsoft’s workforce is largely white and male, mirroring the tech industry. In 2017, it had a global workforce of more than 120,000 people and about 25.9 percent was female. Its technical employees were 19 percent female.
Lawyers for Microsoft and the plaintiffs have been throwing legal barbs at each other in the case for more than two years, in the form of studies into the company’s review and investigative practices and in testimony from experts in the fields of human resources, gender studies and workplaces.
U.S. District Judge James Robart is hearing the case in U.S. District Court in Seattle and is expected to decide on the class-action request in the next several months.