Gender discrimination suit filed against Microsoft as ex-engineer says it  promoted less qualified men over women

A former Microsoft engineer in a newly filed lawsuit alleges that the company’s employee review system discriminates against women in performance evaluations, promotions and compensation. She said that the company has a “pattern and practice of sex discrimination against female employees in technical and engineering roles.”

“Microsoft’s company-wide policies and practices systematically violate female technical employees’ rights and result in the unchecked gender bias that pervades its corporate culture,” the complaint reads. “The disadvantage to female technical employees in pay and promotion is not isolated or exceptional, but rather the regular and predictable result of Microsoft’s policies and practices and lack of proper accountability measures to ensure fairness.”

While Microsoft in a statement said, “We’re committed to a diverse workforce, and to a workplace where all employees have the chance to succeed. We’ve previously reviewed the plaintiff’s allegations about her specific experience and did not find anything to substantiate those claims, and we will carefully review this new complaint.”

The suit was filed on Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Seattle by Katherine Moussouris, who worked at Microsoft from 2007 to 2014, and is now chief policy officer at HackerOne.

Moussouris says in her complaint (PDF) that Microsoft’s “stack ranking” system, which was used until 2013, “force ranks” employees on a 1 to 5 scale, with 20 percent of employees allowed to receive a 1 (the best ranking), 20 percent ranked a 2, 40 percent a 3, 13 percent a 4, and the remaining 7 percent ranked a 5. But the problems have persisted since then, the suit alleges.

“This stack ranking process systematically undervalued female technical employees compared to similarly situated male employees because, among other reasons, it meant that lower ranked employees were inferior and should be paid less and promoted less frequently regardless of their actual contributions to Microsoft,” Moussouris’ lawyers write in the complaint.

That ranking system was replaced in 2014. “From 2014 to the present, Microsoft has used a similarly unvalidated, and unreliable discriminatory performance evaluation procedure that systematically undervalues female technical employees relative to their male peers, and results in lower scores than men in similar positions with no better or worse objective performance,” the suit says.

In 2012, Moussouris said that her manager told her she had “outstanding performance” and ranked her a 2. However, she ended up ranked a 3, after the forced ranking process. Similarly, in 2013, she was told she deserved a 1, but then ended up with a 2.

She was consistently paid “less than her male peers throughout her tenure at the company,” the suit says. She was also passed over for deserved promotions, including once when she was on maternity leave.

In an interview with The Recorder, Kelly Dermody, a Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein partner who is representing Moussouris said “Microsoft’s policies had an adverse impact on women, and Microsoft did not correct known issues.”

The suit asks the court to require Microsoft to end the alleged discriminatory practices, and institute a new system with “accurate and validated standards for evaluating performance, determining pay, and making promotion decisions,” overseen by a court-appointed monitor. It also asks the court to seek back pay and unspecified financial damages, and reinstatement of the plaintiff and class members to their rightful positions.

According to an e-mail sent by a Microsoft spokesperson to Ars, it said that “We’re committed to a diverse workforce, and to a workplace where all employees have the chance to succeed.” She also said Moussouris’ allegations had been looked into in the past and the company did not find anything to authenticate them. “We will carefully review this new complaint.”

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