Forced to watch child porn and murder for their job, Microsoft employees developed PTSD, claims lawsuit
Two former employees of Microsoft’s Online Safety Team are suing the company after it forced them to watch videos and pictures of “indescribable sexual assaults,” murder and child abuse, saying that it made them develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) over time. Both of them are now suffering from symptoms of PTSD, which include nightmares, anxiety, and hallucinations. The lawsuit revolves around Microsoft not providing them with efficient healthcare and treatment.
“It’s horrendous. It’s bad enough just to see a child get sexually molested. Then there are murders. Unspeakable things are done to these children,” Ben Wells, one of the attorneys who filed the suit in Washington said.
The two plaintiffs, namely Henry Soto and Greg Blauert, were a part of the Online Safety team. According to them, their jobs which involved keeping a check on the company’s online services like e-mail or Bing for illegal content such as child pornography and violent videos, and decide what kind of content should be taken down or reported to the police.
Soto and Blauert had been in charge of the safety team, starting from 2008. They further allege that they were not informed in any way about the possible psychological dangers of taking this kind of work and the potential for “debilitating injuries”, and that they were denied any support.
“Many people simply cannot imagine what Soto had to view on a daily basis as most people do not understand how horrible and inhumane the worst people in the world can be,” his lawyers were quoted as saying by the Guardian.
Blauert was also required to “review thousands of images of child pornography, adult pornography and bestiality that graphically depicted the violence and depravity of the perpetrators.”
Employees “were not told that the more they became invested in saving people, the less able they would become to recognize and act on their own symptoms of PTSD,” the suit claims.
Instead of offering proper psychological care for employees, Microsoft reportedly developed a “Wellness Program,” which instructed them to take smoke breaks and long walks to deal with their condition, says the complaint. They were even asked to play video games during their breaks. This stood in contrast to members of the company’s Digital Crimes Unit, who were reportedly provided with a ‘comprehensive mental health program’ that was allegedly not made available to Soto, Blauert and others in the Online Safety team.
Microsoft’s compassion fatigue counsellor allegedly “lacked sufficient knowledge and training regarding vicarious trauma or PTSD and lack the authority to take employees off content or rotate them entirely out of the department.” They believe that Microsoft’s safety program supervisors are unaware of the consequences of the viewing these taxing and disrespectful pieces of content on a daily basis. The two of them were stuck in the said department for about 18 months and this took a toll on their psyche.
When Soto initially met with psychiatrists, he said he was experiencing sleep disturbances, nightmares, anxiety and “suffered from an internal video screen in his head and could see disturbing images”. However, as time passed by, he began experiencing visual hallucinations, panic attacks in public, disassociation and depression.
“One of the triggers for him is children,” Wells told the Guardian. “At times, he can’t look at his own son … He can’t see a knife in the kitchen … He can’t look at computers.” Soto eventually went on medical leave.
On the other hand, Blauert is said to have suffered a breakdown in 2013 due to the work demands when he was experiencing “intractable crying, insomnia, anxiety and PTSD”, the suit said. He is now triggered by adults who look like “potential abusers” and “fears for the safety of children he meets”. He is also unable to look at any “child related content” on computers and has not returned to work due to the triggers, according to the complaint.
The two employees claimed that they provided suggestions on how to improve work in the department, but apparently those were ignored. As a result, Blauert and Soto together with their wives filed a lawsuit against Microsoft in the past month, alleging negligence, disability discrimination and violations of the Consumer Protection Act.
The plaintiffs have also applied for worker’s compensation after being recommended for medical leave, but were allegedly denied coverage. According to the lawsuit, “The worker’s condition is not an occupational disease,” denial letters from a worker’s compensation agency read.
In response to this, a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement:
“Microsoft applies industry-leading, cutting-edge technology to help detect and classify illegal images of child abuse and exploitation that are shared by users on Microsoft services. Once verified by a specially trained employee, the company removes the image, reports it to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, and bans the users who shared the images from our services. We have put in place robust wellness programs to ensure the employees who handle this material have the resources and support they need.”
The plaintiffs seek damages for pain and suffering, economic and treble damages under the Consumer Protection Act and Washington Disability Discrimination Act.
Neither Blauert nor Soto has returned to work.
If the suit prevails, it could have consequences for corporations across the industry, and Wells said he hopes the case motivates others to speak out about poor working conditions.
You can read the full complaint, filed in December 2016, here, as originally reported by Courthouse News.
Source: The Guardian