Microsoft Accused of Systemic Gender Discrimination

Despite Microsoft's trend of including arbitration agreements in all of its consumer contracts in an effort to forestall class action lawsuits, the mega tech company is currently facing class allegations of gender discrimination in Seattle federal court. A former female engineer for Microsoft has accused the company of engaging in a "pattern and practice of sex discrimination against female employees in technical and engineering roles."

Engineer Files a Complaint against Microsoft

The engineer, Katherine Moussouris, has alleged that Microsoft's "forced performance rankings" are having a negative effect on female technical employees. The ranking system "force ranks" employees on a 1 to 5 scale, where only 20 percent of employees can receive the best ranking of 1, 20 percent can be ranked a 2, 40 percent a 3, 13 percent a 4, and the remaining 7 percent must be ranked a 5.

The Adverse Effects of Microsoft's Ranking System

According to Moussouris, who worked at Microsoft from 2007 until 2014, her performance was outstanding, but her rankings were always lower than they should be because of the forced ranking process. She also claims she was consistently paid less than her male peers, who were routinely promoted over her. Because of this system, lower ranked employees were considered inferior and consequently paid less and promoted less often, regardless of their actual contributions to the company. As a result of this type of evaluation procedure, it is alleged, that female technical employees were being "systematically undervalued." Despite knowledge that the ranking system had an adverse impact on women, Microsoft did nothing to correct these issues.

What Is Systemic Discrimination?

Systemic discrimination consists of a pattern, practice, or policy involving discrimination that widely impacts a profession, company, industry, or geographic area. Examples of systemic practices include:

  • Creating discriminatory obstacles in recruitment and hiring
  • Restricting access to management trainee programs or promotions
  • Excluding qualified female workers from male-dominated professions
  • Practicing reductions in force and/or retirement benefits based on age
  • Asking unlawful pre-employment inquiries based on disabilities
  • Complying with customer preferences that involve discriminatory practices or termination.

The EEOC's Response to Systemic Discrimination

While the EEOC will continue to handle individual Charges of Discrimination, as part of its Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP), the EEOC will focus on systemic discrimination cases. A systemic discrimination investigation by the EEOC may be initiated in basically three ways. The EEOC serves an employer with requests for information and documents, whenever a Charge is being investigated. The EEOC may uncover past and present business practices that evidence systemic discrimination during the investigation process. If an employer does not cooperate in providing the requested documentation, a subpoena can also be issued.

The EEOC can issue a Charge of discrimination on its own initiative, as well. An increase in these "Commissioner Charges" is expected as part of the EEOC's focus on combatting systemic employment discrimination. Finally, even in the absence of a Charge of Discrimination, the EEOC can file a lawsuit or intervene in a current lawsuit, in an effort to address systemic discrimination.


If you feel that you have been subjected to any type of systemic discrimination in the workplace, you can take action with the help of an employment discrimination lawyer from Wrady & Michel, LLC. Call our Birmingham office at (205) 265-1880 or fill out a case evaluation form to get started.

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