Microsoft hires law firm to review sexual harassment policies

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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella listens to a question from a member of the public during the company’s annual shareholder meeting in Bellevue, Wash., November 30, 2016.

Stephen Brashear | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Microsoft’s board said Thursday it would review the software maker’s policies on sexual harassment and release a report in the spring after shareholders in November approved a proposed report on the topic.

The assessment will come after years of complaints about Microsoft’s investigations into concerns raised by employees.

Arent Fox Law Firm will conduct the review. The board said Arent Fox, which has offices in Washington and other US cities, hasn’t “done a lot of work for the company in the past.” The review will compare Microsoft’s handling of harassment with that of other companies, even though that’s not something Arjuna Capital asked for in its shareholder proposal.

Arent Fox will submit a report to the board with recommendations, and the leaders will show the board a plan to act on the recommendations. Then the board will release a report to the public showing how Microsoft intends to adjust its approach to dealing with harassment.

“Our culture remains our number one priority, and the entire Board of Directors appreciates the critical importance of a safe and inclusive environment for all Microsoft employees,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a statement. . “We are committed to not only reviewing the report, but also to learning from the assessment so that we can continue to improve our employee experiences. I view this comprehensive review as an opportunity to continue to improve.”

Nadella brought up the subject last May, following reports that Bill Gates, co-founder and original CEO of Microsoft, had a sexual relationship with an employee in 2000. Microsoft has received a report about it and a committee of the board of directors looked into the matter. Gates left Microsoft’s board in 2020. Nadella said anyone can raise an issue, even if it’s two decades old, and the company will take action. Microsoft’s board said Thursday its report will summarize the results of the investigations, including the one involving Gates.

The board’s report will also look at stories of harassment and discrimination female employees made in an email chain in 2019 and the company’s response.

In addition to the Gates case and the emails, Arjuna Capital alluded in its shareholder proposal to a 2012 class action lawsuit against Microsoft in which 238 employees complained of harassment. The case showed that “Microsoft’s human resources team continually ignored and denied these allegations, only considering one to be substantiated.”

And in a lawsuit dropped in 2020, former Microsoft employee Katie Moussouris alleged that Microsoft had developed a habit of gender discrimination against women in technical and engineering positions.

She said in her original 2015 complaint that in 2008 she complained about a male manager who was harassing other female employees. Microsoft found that to be true, but moved him to another part of the organization and allowed him to retain his title. Moussouris said she complained after the manager retaliated against her by giving her a low bonus, but Microsoft did nothing. He then received a promotion, she claimed.

Workers at other big tech companies Apple and Google have drawn attention to how their employers have handled harassment allegations. In 2020, Google settled a lawsuit with shareholders over allegations it mishandled executive misconduct, and the company announced a list of new practices.

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