Lawyers representing Microsoft in the gender-discrimination case have been overly aggressive, says the judge hearing the suit.
A federal judge has sharply criticized Microsoft for not following his orders in its defense of a gender discrimination class-action lawsuit, saying a law firm representing the Redmond company “doesn’t speak English.”
In the case, three current or former Microsoft employees allege that Microsoft’s pay and promotion practices discriminated against women in technical roles. Male colleagues, the three women say, were promoted at faster rates, in some cases when they were less qualified or demonstrated worse job performance. Microsoft denies the allegations.
The plaintiffs’ lawyers and Microsoft’s legal team have clashed for much of the year since the case was filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle. The disputes have centered on terms of the suit and what internal documents Microsoft must provide.
In June, U.S. District Judge James Robart ordered Microsoft to turn over documents with dates beginning in January 2010.
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After that order, Microsoft’s legal team told the plaintiffs’ attorneys it would only give up documents related to people employed by the company in September 2012 or later, which Microsoft contends is the appropriate date for members of the putative class-action suit.
In a Sept. 7 hearing in Seattle to discuss the matter, Robart criticized Microsoft for forcing him to rule on the same issue twice, accusing the company’s legal team of being overly aggressive and trying to find loopholes in his orders, according to a transcript of the proceedings released this week.
Mark Parris, a Seattle-based attorney with Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe who is representing Microsoft, told the court the company’s legal team was acting in good faith. They believed they were complying with the court’s orders, he said.
“Well, it is clear that I do not speak Orrick,” Robart replied. “It is also clear to me, at this point, that the Orrick firm doesn’t speak English.”
Robart ordered Microsoft’s outside attorneys to have the company’s chief legal officer or director of litigation sign off on all future filings in the case.
“I am sincere in my concern over the frequency with which Microsoft has placed this court in having to go back and remedy situations which appear to me to be the result of over-aggressive lawyers,” Robart said. That also happened in a prior case involving Microsoft, he said.
In a statement, Microsoft said it would “continue to cooperate with plaintiffs’ counsel to reach a reasonable resolution” in remaining document disputes.
Last month, the plaintiffs’ lawyers in the case disclosed that the U.S. Labor Department had found preliminary evidence of gender discrimination at Microsoft. It is unclear what those findings were, or which Microsoft unit they targeted.