The lawsuit against Microsoft, filed by three current or former female employees, is seeking class-action status, which could add 8,630 women to the list of plaintiffs.
Microsoft defended itself Friday against a lawsuit claiming widespread gender discrimination at the company, saying that its pay and promotion system does not discriminate against women, and that employees’ claims shouldn’t be considered together.
The lawsuit, filed by three current or former female employees, is seeking class-action status, which could add 8,630 women to the list of plaintiffs. The suit seeks to represent all women who worked in technical roles at Microsoft since September 2012.
Microsoft said class-action status isn’t warranted for the lawsuit because there is no common cause for employees’ discrimination complaints.
The plaintiffs’ suit asserts that women at Microsoft lost out on $100 million to $238 million in pay and on 500 promotions because of the company’s discrimination.
Microsoft’s process for promoting employees and giving raises is biased against women, the suit claims, and the company was aware that it was favoring men. Specifically, the lawsuit says that when women and men in similar roles are found to have performed equally well, women are given fewer promotions and raises after managers confer during the company’s review process.
Microsoft takes issue with basic tenets of the women’s claims, asserting that the company has nearly equal pay between men and women who hold the same positions.
The Redmond company said the plaintiffs did not show any connection between the part of the review process that involves managers discussing each employee’s performance and the alleged pay disparity. Employee-review processes also vary between teams and managers with few binding company guidelines, Microsoft argued, so couldn’t act as a system to discriminate.
“Plaintiffs’ claims are simply not the stuff of which class actions are made,” Microsoft’s response reads.
Gender-discrimination cases against other tech giants, including Google and Uber, are piling up as the industry faces vocal allegations it creates unwelcoming and sometimes hostile working environments for women. Diversity at tech companies has been forced into the spotlight as activist investors and employees call on the powerful businesses to examine their demographics.
Katherine Moussouris complained of gender discrimination by Microsoft in a suit filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle in September 2015. She and her co-plaintiffs in October 2017 asked U.S. District Judge James Robart to grant the case class-action status.
Many of the claims that former female employees submitted as part of that motion said that equally qualified men on their teams were promoted faster and given more raises than they were while working at Microsoft.
Some claims allege more blatant discriminatory treatment. One former employee said she was denied a higher-level job because a male manager said he did not want to “waste a promotion” on her in case she became pregnant. Another said she was docked points during a performance review because she was told she did not smile enough.
The lawsuit criticizes a Microsoft-conducted study that showed women at the company earn 99.9 cents for every dollar earned by men in identical roles.
The women suing Microsoft hired researchers to study the company’s policies. Those studies found that Microsoft’s promotion and raise processes caused substantial pay gaps between men and women who performed equally well.
Microsoft in turn claims the plaintiffs’ studies were conducted improperly, partly by ignoring the nuances of Microsoft’s pay-tier system that can award different salaries to employees with the same job titles.
The company concedes in its filing that in large organizations, “some employees inevitably fail to live up to standards” for treating everyone equally. But it says it has a robust investigative team to deal with discrimination complaints that arise, and it denies that systemic bias is taking place through its review process.
The plaintiffs will have a chance to respond and Microsoft has asked for oral arguments before a judge decides whether to make the case a class-action suit.