Microsoft faces $5 billion race discrimination lawsuit.
January 3, 2001 5:35 AM   Subscribe

No company in its right mind would actually risk using discriminatory practices precisely because of risk of litigation. Microsoft was started by a bunch of progressive hippie geeks, ferchristsakes. As with the Coke lawsuits, these are most likely gold diggers that know that all they have to do is scream the magic race word, "Discrimination," and the lawyers will come running to help them collect their money for nothing. Look at that Peter Brown fella. Microsoft made him a MILLIONAIRE executive, and now the greedy bastard is whining that, somehow, he was "discriminated" against. That's a load of BS, I say.
posted by Wizzle at 7:26 AM on January 3, 2001

Wizzle, Coke just settled for 192 million and it wasn't that long ago that execs at Texaco were caught on tape making racist remarks. These 'gold diggers' as you call them, will have to prove their case in court.
Most black folks I know deal with predjudice or being stereotyped on a regular basis, most of us let it roll off our backs or 'just deal with it'.
Mister Browne is already a millionaire, but something must've happened to make him want to put his comfort and future at risk by joining this lawsuit.
Just because MS was started by a bunch of hippie progressives doesn't mean that culture is even there anymore. I have several friends who are employed at Microsoft and it doesn't sound much different from the place I work.
Why don't you wait for the facts to come out before you pass judgement? You'll have to eat less crow that way if you're wrong.
posted by black8 at 8:09 AM on January 3, 2001

Without making any comments about the actual merits of this particular case (which I as yet haven't read about), sometimes large lawsuits like this can be lodged against large corporations in hope of an out-of-court settlement. Even if the large corporation is innocent, it often can't afford the publicity that would be associated with the trial. Thus this can be (but is not necessarily) a form of legal extortion.

posted by Steven Den Beste at 8:52 AM on January 3, 2001

I really agree with Black8. Senior people and professionals seriously jeopardize their ability ever to get hired again when they file lawsuits against their former employers on grounds of discrimination, whether or not they win, and they know very well that it is a hard road actualy to win. Without a smoking gun (like the Texaco tapes) or a long and unquestioned heritage of racial discrimination (like Coke, based in Atlanta) the odds are really against the plaintiffs.

So, bottom line, the complainants may be wrong, but I really doubt that I are anything but entirely sincere in their belief that they were wrongfully discriminated against. The likelihood that they're doing this cynically to "gold dig" is pretty slim.

My guess is that the plaintiffs are going to find barrels of evidence that lots and lots of the libertarian / meritocracy-obsessed senior programmers and managers hate affirmative action and fought against programs to hire and promote African American staff for the purpose of diversifying the company.

The question is whether or not the jury will infer from resistance to discrimination in favor of blacks an intention to discriminate against blacks already hired. A lot will turn on the tone of the e-mails that get produced in discovery.
posted by MattD at 8:57 AM on January 3, 2001

Having worked at MS as a contractor, this suit strikes me as pure horseshit. I don't believe I've seen any other computer-related workplace with as diverse a workforce as Microsoft. True, the actual percentage of black employees is low -- but how does it compare to the percentage of black applicants? It's not Microsoft's job to fix the pool of employees.

(And yes, you may infer from this that I think affirmative action is A Bad Thing.)
posted by ffmike at 9:14 AM on January 3, 2001

"Microsoft made him a MILLIONAIRE executive, and now the greedy bastard is whining that, somehow, he was 'discriminated' against."

I'm not referring to this specific case, but this kind of thinking irks me. If all the employees around you are getting raises of $10,000 and you get $3,000, the first thing to do is make sure you're doing a good job. (after all, it could just be based on merit, the way it's supposed to be)

However, if you are never given a good reason for consistantly making less than the people around you, I think anyone would try to investigate, whether the numbers are $7,000 different or $7,000,000 different.

Just because someone hits the "MILLIONAIRE" level doesn't mean they should sit back and let themselves be screwed. (again, I'm not entering the fray on this specific case, but rather pointing out that the size of the person's wallet means nothing if you're making 1/2 of what your should.)
posted by jragon at 9:34 AM on January 3, 2001

ffmike, care to explain what Affirmative Action has to do with this? By adding that to your comments, one would think you're inferring something all right...
posted by black8 at 9:44 AM on January 3, 2001

black8, read MattD's comment. He's the one who brought up Affirmative Action, ffmike's just pointing out his take on it.
posted by cCranium at 10:05 AM on January 3, 2001

I don't believe I've seen any other computer-related workplace with as diverse a workforce as Microsoft.

The linked article gives the statistics on diversity and they're Not Good -- especially in management.
posted by sudama at 10:16 AM on January 3, 2001

Completely agree with your first comment, black8. Most African-Americans I know are *slow* to call something discrimination or racism, not quick. There are repercussions to charging someone with discrimination or racism; no one treats these terms lightly, especially black Americans.

I read a great book that did an academic evaluation of this--they interviewed 100 black Americans, in different positions, different classes, etc. Most of the people interviewed usually questioned their own ideas when they thought others were being discriminatory--"dealing with it" or just denying that it was intentionally racist.

Sure, there are people out there that will sue anyone for anything, to make a buck, like the prisoner that sued Penthouse, but I doubt that employees would bring a discrimination suit unless they really REALLY thought it was warranted. A suit like this can ruin the employees' future careers for life.
posted by gramcracker at 10:42 AM on January 3, 2001

Point taken, cCranium.
From what I understand from reading the article, Mr. Browne's suit is about being passed over for promotion, not just getting hired. Since he has a track record at the company, it should be easy for MS to prove or disprove the merit of his complaint, right? After all-he's millionaire, so Mr. Browne must've done something right, right?!
Secondly, the article states that MS has been sued over this issue before. This Class Action suit is just something new.
If it were a matter of poor applicants suing 'cause they didn't get into MS, that's one thing.
Current employees doing a good job and getting passed over is something else entirely.

posted by black8 at 10:56 AM on January 3, 2001

More background on the case from October 29, 2000 on Browne's allegations.
posted by tomalak at 11:50 AM on January 3, 2001

I read the article on Mr. Browne, and have decided to retract my initial statement about him being a "greedy bastard." I empathize with him and apologize for being offensive. But I still have my reservations on these kinds of lawsuits, as this kind of claim is easy to abuse, given the litigious nature of society. Remember the "Boy who cried 'Wolf.'"
posted by Wizzle at 12:37 PM on January 3, 2001

      But it’s not just about the numbers [because they don't have numbers]. “Two wrongs don’t make a right,” Gary said. Microsoft’s treatment of blacks “can’t be justified with some hocus-smokus” of statistics, he said.

You heard it here first: He don't like no hocus-smokus.

I only wish there was more in the article detailing what's been happening aside from the percentage blacks/whites bit which seems a bit thin.
posted by holloway at 1:08 PM on January 3, 2001

I'm always doing that. Sorry.
posted by holloway at 1:12 PM on January 3, 2001

True, the actual percentage of black employees is low -- but how does it compare to the percentage of black applicants? It's not Microsoft's job to fix the pool of employees.

Oh, you're wrong about that. The EEOC thinks it very much is Microsoft's job - and any other company's job - to insure that they have employed at LEAST the percentage of blacks that make up the population in that area, no matter what the company has to do to comply. If not, they put themselves at very serious legal risks. It is an outright quota system.

There was a story about this on 60 Minutes a few years ago. There was this guy that ran a little lamp-making company in some industrial part of Chicago, I think. Every single one of his employees was a minority, most of whom lived within walking distance of the factory. The mix was something like 90% Hispanic and 10% black, no whites save for the owner himself. So a black woman applies for a job, and doesn't get it, for a legitimate reason (I forget what the reason was, someone else was just more qualified, I think). She goes to the EEOC and complains. The EEOC decides that, uh-oh, according to the census figures for his neighborhood, he needs to have ELEVEN PERCENT black employees. So he's labelled as a discriminator, and the EEOC forces him to pay a fine of something over a million dollars. His company is so small that the only way he could afford to pay it was to lay off a whole bunch of his employees (who are all either black or hispanic, remember). Even more ironic was that he was one of the only businesses in the neighborhood, and it was pre-dotcom mania, so there wasn't anywhere else these laid-off workers could easily go. The net result is: his company is decimated, a whole bunch of hard-working minorities ended up having to go back on government assistance ... but at least the EEOC got that "damned evil bigot," eh? That's the important thing, right?
posted by aaron at 11:45 PM on January 3, 2001


The writer implies. The reader infers. Thus ends the lesson.
posted by Optamystic at 11:48 PM on January 3, 2001

Uh, Thanks...
posted by black8 at 10:34 AM on January 4, 2001

great story, aaron. and the lesson we apply to the microsoft case is... what, exactly? bureaucracy bad? quotas bad? diversity ...? discrimination ...? i guess i don't follow you.
posted by sudama at 11:43 AM on January 4, 2001

Quotas bad.

A computer company I worked at hired 60 people. One was black, one was Indian. Four were female.

There wasn't anything racist or sexist about it. They assessed people's technical skill and hired accordingly. We didn't even interview people and hired entirely on Q/A tests.

I'm sure they'd be guilty though. This story doesn't show examples of anything bad aside from numbers or some guy that should have got a promotion (there's no evidence at all that it's to do with his race aside from ratios and quotas)
posted by holloway at 3:01 PM on January 4, 2001

sudama: What holloway said, Quotas Bad. Innocent people and companies get hurt by them, and they allow for frivolous lawsuits. (Bureaucracy generally bad too, but there are plenty of ways to discuss that without involving race.)
posted by aaron at 4:53 PM on January 4, 2001

The case of Mr. Browne has nothing to do with quotas!
The question is: Did he do a good job? Should he have gotten additional benefits and/or a promotion if he did? (According to the article the answer would be 'Yes' to both questions)
If the answer is 'Yes' to both questions, then the question is: Why didn't he get those benefits and/or promotion? Was it his race? His age? What??

By talking about Affirmative Action and quotas, you impugn Mr. Browne's qualifications and since MS recruited HIM, that's not even in question here.
Is there an assumption that every black person holding a job is there only because of quotas or some government program?
I won't even go into how insulting that is.
Does every black person who calls bullshit on being dealt the short end of the stick have to have a PhD in his field to have any credibility?
(Know what Malcolm X had to say about that?!)

posted by black8 at 3:51 AM on January 5, 2001

Whether we want to believe it or not discrimination still exists. As a black female not every black person wants to be a statistic when it comes to college admissions and companies. But often times this is the position we are put in, we are there with no power, just one of the worker bees. New school affirmative action has increased our numbers to 12%, but what about old school affirmative action, preferential treatment which is based on who your relatives or friends are and not on qualifications. This often times is considered good business.

People have a right to complain, when they think discrimination exists, this country does not have the best track record when it comes to fair treatment for all people.

posted by passionblack at 11:13 AM on January 5, 2001

I imply nothing. It was topic-drift.

However, getting on topic...

>By talking about Affirmative Action and quotas,
> you impugn Mr. Browne's qualifications and
> since MS recruited HIM, that's not even in
> question here.

Uh.. nope, of course it's a question here. All people hired aren't equal (in skills). There are many reasons why he may not have been promoted (maybe the guy's a prat).

I bring up quotas as the linked article shows no proof, and only some "he said, she said", aside from racial distribution inside Microsoft and outside Microsoft.

I'm not defending Microsoft. I haven't a clue as to their policies or how they treat workers. But this article doesn't have any evidence and I'm one of those "innocent 'till proven guilty" types.

I'm willing to be proved wrong though. It'll be interesting to see if there is any substance to their claims.

posted by holloway at 6:41 PM on January 5, 2001

The case of Mr. Browne has nothing to do with quotas!

The threadlet I'm participating in is discussing the originally-linked article about the class action suit, not the Browne suit. There's a big difference between one man claiming illegal racist behavior by his immediate peers and supervisors, and an entire group of people alleging a systematic, top-to-bottom culture of institutionalized discrimination that permeates every nook and cranny of the Microsoft behemoth.

And my point was, the Federal Government-imposed racial quota system makes it far too easy for such groups to "prove" such activity merely by tossing around census statistics, rather than showing evidence of actual, intentional discriminatory activity by a company's management.

Now, it could very well be true that such institutionalized racism exists at Microsoft. I've never been inside an MS building (unless you count MSNBC in Secaucus, which isn't really the same thing), so I don't know. But all this article discusses is the allegation, and the usual spin about percentages. We shall see.
posted by aaron at 10:55 PM on January 5, 2001

In the article they say "Microsoft has about 5,000 managers but only 83 of those are African-American. The company employees some 21,000 people in the U.S. but only 2.6 percent of those are black, the suit says.".

I assume 'the suit' is on the black guy's side as I doubt if Microsoft would bring that up that statistic (I guess the suit might be a made-up character for the spin). This article did bring up racial percentages inside and outside Microsoft - and within the tech industry.

How is the expectation of a certain amount of each race within Microsoft, not quotas?

posted by holloway at 4:40 AM on January 6, 2001

what about old school affirmative action, preferential treatment which is based on who your relatives or friends are and not on qualifications. This often times is considered good business.

Well, for universities (which are heavily dependent on the contributions of well-to-do alumni), "legacy" admissions are good business, at least from a revenue-generation standpoint. If you're a rich alum of a university and your kid starts going there, you're more likely to be involved and much more likely to contribute! The side effects of this policy may be undesirable in many ways, but in the revenue column (to many university decision makers, the important column) it's a fantastic policy.

It's the same reasons many schools operate apparently money-losing sports teams (especially football). The effect they have on continuing alumni relations is often worth the supposed loss.
posted by daveadams at 2:18 PM on January 6, 2001

Yes! End affirmative action! End affirmative action that's been running rampant for 300 years in the country! No more special privleges for white males!
posted by capt.crackpipe at 3:04 PM on January 6, 2001

We like to believe we live in a "equal opportunity" country but we don't. Everyone has already been placed in their particular category, and a few with support of special forces are able to move beyond.

We are living in the illusion that everything is great, so why are these people complaining. The "I have never had a problem syndrome."

And companies are no different, and its not even a race issue. Women feel it, minorities feel it, and white males who aren't in the in-crowd feel it.

I wish both sides luck in this case. But if Microsoft is found guilty of discrimination. This will be added to the evidence, that some people are still considered second class citizens in this country.
posted by passionblack at 6:54 AM on January 8, 2001

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