Recent Lawsuits Filed by Employees Against Microsoft

by JRO on December 3, 2013

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Though the name Microsoft has long been synonymous with computing, its reputation as a great place to work has recently taken a hit. Several former Microsoft employees have even sued the company for various abuses.

Gay Employee Alleges Discrimination

In 2009, a video-game designer at Lionhead Studios — which is owned by Microsoft — sued Microsoft for £45,000. The designer, Jamie Durrant, claimed that after Microsoft bought Lionhead, the work environment become unreasonably hostile. Durrant, a homosexual, claimed to receive gay-bashing emails and that he was a target for verbal abuse. Durrant said that his attempts to reconcile the problems in-house went awry, and the company acted as if he, and not the abusive employees, was the problem. The two sides eventually reached an agreement.

Revenge of the Permatemps

A group of “permatemps” — the nickname given to long-term temporary workers at Microsoft — won a $97 million settlement against the company in 2000. Their case argued that Microsoft had denied them benefits, thanks to their in-name-but-not-in-nature status as “temporary” workers. It was estimated that each worker involved in the case would receive around $10,000.

This wasn’t the first time Microsoft had major problems with employee classification. Microsoft began using the temporary workers because of yet another legal snare: the Internal Revenue Service had earlier determined Microsoft was wrongly classifying full-time workers as independent contractors. The $97 million permatemp settlement, while large, probably didn’t affect Microsoft all that much: the company was worth $20 billion at the time.

Massive Discrimination Suit

In the early 2000s, seven black employees sued Microsoft for discrimination. The plaintiffs sought a massive, $5 billion figure for several alleged abuses. Most notably, the lawsuit claimed that black employees were regularly passed over for promotions in favor of less-qualified and less-experienced white employees. The plaintiffs also complained of abusive remarks directed at black employees. The plaintiffs’ lawyer pointed at the low ratio of black Microsoft managers as evidence in the case.

Libyan Ex-Employee Sues

In perhaps the most unique suit Microsoft has faced, a Libyan ex-employee sued the company for the treatment he was subjected to during and after Libya’s 2011 revolution. Plaintiff Mahmoud Kedkad was working in Libya when the revolution started. Kedkad’s complaints were based on Microsoft’s alleged attempts to prevent him from talking about the Libyan conflict. Additionally, Kedkad claims the company did not do enough to help him with his posttraumatic stress disorder, which was caused by the violence he saw in Libya. Kedkad’s suit sought $3 million in damages.

“Corporate Torture”

In 2012, a California man sued Microsoft for what he referred to as “corporate torture.” Mark Birkhead of Capitola, California brought a $13.8 million suit against Microsoft in which he claimed the company slowly shattered his confidence through various methods, including degrading e-mails. Allegedly sparked by an unorthodox project Birkhead proposed, the harassment increased until Birkhead was demoted, then fired. Aside from the hefty payday he sought, Birkhead said that he was attempting to change the company’s policies to better protect workers.

No company wants its name associated with the phrase “corporate torture.” If Microsoft wants stories like these to cease, it may need to shift its policies, and learn from suits like Birkhead’s.

Byline

In addition to issues in the tech industry, Frank Metcalf writes on gadgets, accessories such as the kensington ipad keyboard case, mobile phones, computer software, gizmos and other kindred topics.

JRO
Freelance blogger based in the greater metro area of Seattle, WA.

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