A federal judge has struck down a request from the attorneys representing three women seeking a class-action lawsuit against Microsoft for alleged discrimination.
The sealed order came from U.S. District Judge James L. Robart on Monday, which barred the lawsuit form proceeding as a class action lawsuit, which would have encompassed more than 8,600 female employees. The original lawsuit was filed in the Western District of Washington federal court on behalf of three female plaintiffs who are all current or former employees of the Redmond-based tech giant.
The plaintiffs are represented by Leiff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP, who had not returned a request for comment at the time of publication.
For its part, a Microsoft spokesperson issued a short statement in an email that read: “We remain committed to increasing diversity and making sure that Microsoft is a workplace where everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed. The judge made the right decision that this case should not be a class action.”
However, court documents allege a pattern of discrimination against female employees in technical and engineering roles at Microsoft. They are centered around allegations of unfair treatment in performance valuations, pay and promotions in addition to sexual harassment and an unresponsive human resources division. The complaint alleges that women retaliate against female employees who complain about discrimination and that women receive less compensation than their male counterparts due to a lack of equitable promotions.
Through 2013, the lawsuit said Microsoft used a “stack ranking” system to evaluate employee performance. It ranked employees from 1 through 5 with 1 being the best score. The lawsuit alleges this system undervalued women employees, leading to less promotions and raises during the bi-annual rankings. The lawsuit alleges women tended to receive lower scores than their male peers despite having equal or better performance during the same period.
Pay at Microsoft is largely based on a tiered system, where the higher an employee climbs based on promotions, the more they earn.
“Overall, Microsoft promotes an overwhelmingly disproportionate number of men, and passes over equally or more qualified women,” the lawsuit read.
The original lawsuit sought a class action lawsuit and a trial by jury. The claims were amended earlier this year with more information, including an estimate that women over a four year period ending in 2016 in engineering and IT jobs had been underpaid by between $100 to $238 million.
More than 500 fewer promotions were given to women than men with the same characteristics and more than 230 human resources complaints alleging gender discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation were filed, the lawsuit read. Of some 118 complaints filed dealing with gender discrimination, Microsoft’s human resources department concluded that only one was founded, the lawsuit alleges.
It additionally described a “boy’s club” corporate culture where women were called slurs, groped frequently and harassed.
The lawsuit sought a halt to discrimination and harassment, the institution of policies that provide equal opportunities for all employees and an order that Microsoft pay restitution and additional penalties for damages.