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More plaintiffs line up in Microsoft discrimination case

A $5 billion discrimination lawsuit filed against the company will be amended Wednesday to include six more plaintiffs, according to attorneys handling the action for the plaintiffs.

    WASHINGTON--A $5 billion discrimination lawsuit filed against Microsoft will be amended Wednesday to include six more plaintiffs, according to attorneys handling the action for the plaintiffs.

    Willie Gary, senior partner with Gary, Williams, Parenti, Finney, Lewis, McManus, Watson & Sperando, is expected to amend a discrimination lawsuit around 6 a.m. PST that is pending with the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., according to a release from the firm. The amended suit will allege that Microsoft violated federal civil rights laws and will seek up to $5 billion in damages, according to the release.

    The basic lawsuit is not new. This summer, former Microsoft employee Rahn Jackson filed a suit against Microsoft. The lawsuit, which names Microsoft chairman Bill Gates as well as the company, alleges that the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant violated the Title VII 1964 Civil Rights Act in employee evaluations, compensation and promotions as well as wrongful termination and retaliatory tactics by Microsoft.

    If and when it is amended, the suit will include six more plaintiffs. Gary may also make a request to have the suit classified as a class action, which would potentially permit more plaintiffs to join it, sources close to the firm stated. The Stuart, Fla.-based law firm would not return a call for comment.

    Coincidentally, U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, the same jurist who ordered Microsoft be split in two for violating antitrust law, is overseeing the matter. The plaintiffs in Wednesday's filing comprise current and former Microsoft employees from Washington, D.C., and Washington state. Rahn Jackson, for example, who is no relation to Judge Jackson, worked for Microsoft in Washington, D.C.

    Because there is a suit pending by Rahn Jackson, Microsoft would not comment on Wednesday's expected action. But Microsoft spokesman Dean Katz spoke broadly about the company's employment practices.

    "Microsoft does not tolerate discrimination in any of its employment practices, and we are committed to treating all of our employees fairly," he said. "We take these kinds of issues very seriously, and we do investigate any concerns that are raised."

    In a media alert issued by the a public relations firm representing Gary's law firm, the lawyers claim that in 1999 Microsoft employed 21,429 people, 2.6 percent of whom were African-American. Of 5,155 managers employed in 1999, 1.6 percent were African-American, the law firm's alert claims.

    Katz addressed this issue. "Fostering diversity in the industry is a challenge for Microsoft and many companies as well, which is why we have invested $100 million the last couple of years to help simulate among minorities and women in scientific and technical fields," he said.

    Currently, Microsoft employs 42,000 people, 22.2 percent of whom are minorities, up from 16.8 percent in 1997, according to the company.

    Gary is an experienced litigator in discrimination and personal injury lawsuits, having won a $500 million jury verdict against Loewen Group, a Canadian funeral home chain. He also has participated in discrimination suits against Coca-Cola, among other companies.

    Wednesday's legal action adds to the mounting legal actions against Microsoft. In November, U.S. District Judge Janet C. Hall tacked $3.7 million in legal fees onto $1 million in punitive damages against Microsoft in the Bristol Technology case.

    On Jan. 12, the government will file its principal brief in Microsoft's appeal of Judge Jackson's devastating antitrust ruling. Microsoft filed its main legal brief in November.

    Microsoft also is battling more than 130 private antitrust cases resulting from its legal tussle with the government. A ruling from a Baltimore court could soon throw out a large number of the pending cases.