A message sent Thursday by Microsoft’s chief of people, Kathleen Hogan, sought to reassure employees that their voices would be heard when they filed a discrimination or harassment complaint to human resources.
Microsoft defended its handling of gender-discrimination complaints Thursday, and said it fired about 20 people last year after sexual-harassment investigations.
In an email to all employees late Thursday about its internal inquiry process for bias complaints, it addressed issues raised earlier this week in a gender-discrimination lawsuit against Microsoft.
The email, sent by Microsoft’s chief of people Kathleen Hogan, sought to reassure employees that their voices would be heard when they filed a complaint.
“We strive to create an environment where everyone is respected, safe and able to do their best work,” the email read.
The company also called “misleading” data disclosed earlier this week in a lawsuit, asserting in its email that “reports that we rarely reach a conclusion in favor of the complainant are based on a faulty reading of a partial data set.”
Microsoft’s internal investigation of complaints was thrust into the public spotlight earlier this week when some information in the lawsuit was unsealed, showing — according to the plaintiffs — that less than 1 percent of gender-discrimination complaints filed by U.S. technical women between 2010 and 2016 were found to violate company policy, according to court documents.
The case also addresses some instances of sexual harassment. In response, Hogan wrote Thursday that U.S. Microsoft employees filed 83 complaints about sexual harassment last fiscal year.
Nearly half were found to be “supported in part or in full.” In more than half of the cases found to be supported, the offender was fired, the company said.
The newly unsealed information in the lawsuit alleges that female engineering employees had filed 238 complaints of gender discrimination, sexual harassment and sexual assault with the company’s internal investigations unit during a seven-year period.
Of 118 gender discrimination complaints filed between 2010 and 2016, the company determined a policy was violated in only one case, according to the plaintiff’s documents, which rely on partial logs of outcomes of the Microsoft investigative team.
Microsoft presented its own numbers in the email Thursday, saying that last fiscal year it had 84 complaints of gender discrimination and found about 10 percent of those to be “supported in part or in full.”
Those numbers cover a different time period and a larger group of employees than those cited in the plaintiff’s court documents.
The company is being sued by three women, current and former engineering employees, who claim that systemic gender discrimination throughout the tech giant has led to women losing out on promotions and hundreds of millions of dollars in pay.
The plaintiffs are seeking to make the lawsuit a class-action case, which would allow more than 8,600 women who have served in technical roles at Microsoft to join.
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Microsoft has denied the lawsuit’s claims, saying it has nearly equal pay between genders and does not systemically discriminate against women.
Hogan also said she had heard that some employees feel the process lacks empathy, and that the company was committed to improving.
The lawsuit was originally filed by Katie Moussouris of Kirkland in September 2015. The former Microsoft cybersecurity employee was joined by two other women, also engineering employees, the next month.
Since then, lawyers on each side of the case have filed thousands of pages of documents including expert studies, depositions of former employees and company memos.
The case has served as a window into Microsoft’s operations surrounding gender in the workplace — a hot-button issue for the tech industry.
Many tech giants, and the sector as a whole, have faced criticism from the public and employees about work forces that are dominated by white males. Some critics say the companies have fostered hostile environments toward women.
U.S. District Court Judge James Robart is expected to rule on whether the case will become a class action in the next several months.