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Women claim Microsoft paid them less, confront its worker-friendly image

Bloomberg/ 11 Jun 18 | 11:19 PM

Microsoft counts itself as a leader with policies promoting gender equality and balancing work and life.

But whatever progress the tech giant has made with equal-pay and family-friendly initiatives, it’s still fighting a lawsuit by women engineers and information technology specialists who claim they were treated for years like second-class citizens.

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The women allege the company paid them less than men, stalled career advancement and froze them out following maternity leave.

While Microsoft has denied any discrimination, the women assert that the effects of systemic practices are continuing.

A federal judge in Seattle will hear arguments Monday on whether the women can band together as a group of more than 8,630 high-level technical specialists to pursue their bias suit. Class-action status is considered crucial to the success of the lawsuit, allowing the women to pool resources and giving them leverage to force a settlement.

ALSO READ: Microsoft becomes third most valuable firm, surpasses Alphabet

Microsoft has made “significant progress’’ in recent years in ensuring a diverse and inclusive workplace, the company said in an emailed statement. “But even as we work on these broader issues, it is clear we don’t discriminate on pay and promotions.’’

Weighing heavily over the class action argument will be the 2011 decision by the US Supreme Court in a gender-bias case against Walmart.

The high court said the plaintiffs failed to show their experiences were similar enough or that the company had a corporate policy that led to gender discrimination at thousands of Walmart and Sam’s Club stores nationally.

Like nearly all defendants facing class action certification, Microsoft cites the Walmart decision as a reason to deny it. “Plaintiffs’ claims are simply not the stuff of which class actions are made,’’ Microsoft lawyers said in court papers, criticising what it called the “extraordinary breadth’’ of the proposed class.

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