Workers want billions from Microsoft

Seven African Americans have filed a US$5 billion race discrimination lawsuit against Microsoft Corp., alleging that the company has passed them over for promotions, discriminated against them in hiring and firing practices and forced them to endure a “plantation-type mentality” at the company.

Six of the plaintiffs added their complaints on Wednesday to a case that was filed in June by Rahn Jackson, a former account executive in Microsoft’s Washington, D.C., office who accused the company of passing him over repeatedly for promotions in favor of white men or women despite his more than eight years with the company and 17 years of sales experience.

Ironically, Jackson’s case was randomly assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, the same judge who in June ruled against the company in the U.S. Department of Justice’s antitrust case. Microsoft has appealed Jackson’s order that the company be split in two parts.

“The world needs to know that Microsoft is not the company that it purports to be. The image is not what it purports to be, and we have a plantation-type mentality when it comes to treating African American workers at that company,” Willie Gary, the lawyer who filed the lawsuit, said at a Washington news conference Wednesday. Gary is seeking to have the amended case opened as a class-action suit for current and former African-American employees of the company since 1992.

Gary said he and his staff talked to many black and white workers throughout Microsoft to uncover evidence of discrimination. Gary claimed that Microsoft’s own employment statistics provide evidence that the company does little to hire or retain African Americans.

In 1999, Microsoft had 21,429 workers, of which 2.6 per cent, or 553, were African-American, according to the figures provided by Gary. Of the firm’s 5,155 managers, 1.6 per cent, 83 mangers were African-American, according to the figures.

“Just the numbers is an indication that that company purports to be about America, to be American, but it doesn’t look like America,” he said. “It gives a lot of credence to many of the allegations that I’ve heard from my clients in terms of how this company discriminates in hiring practices, discriminates in promotion practices, (and) discriminates in terms of how they evaluate employees.”

Microsoft spokesman Jim Cullinan did not return a phone call seeking comment on the allegations, but a statement issued by the company quoted Deborah Willingham, vice-president of human resources, saying Microsoft has a zero tolerance policy toward discrimination in the workplace.