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New plaintiffs join Microsoft discrimination suit

The amended $5 billion lawsuit adds six plaintiffs and seeks class-action status, potentially expanding its reach to hundreds of former and current African-American Microsoft employees.

    WASHINGTON--Lawyers for seven former and current Microsoft employees on Wednesday amended a $5 billion discrimination lawsuit filed against Microsoft.

    As previously reported by CNET News.com, Willie Gary, senior partner with Gary, Williams, Parenti, Finney, Lewis, McManus, Watson & Sperando, filed the amended suit around 6 a.m. PST with the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

    The basic lawsuit is not new. In June, former Microsoft employee Rahn Jackson filed a suit against Microsoft. The filing, 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 and engaged in wrongful termination and retaliatory tactics.

    The amended suit adds six plaintiffs and seeks to raise the lawsuit to class-action status, potentially expanding its reach to hundreds of former and current African-American employees of Microsoft. The District Court is under no obligation to certify the class status.

    Two Jacksons: one judge, one plaintiff
    Coincidentally, U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, the same jurist who ordered that 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.

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    Attorney alleges that Microsoft discriminates
    Willie Gary, sr. partner, Gary, Williams, Parenti
    "Microsoft has discriminated against African American employees who made valuable contributions to the company, but were not treated with the same dignity, respect and compensation as their white counterparts," Gary said in a statement. "There are glass ceilings and glass walls in place for African Americans at Microsoft. We are stunned and disappointed in their treatment of Black employees."

    Because of the original suit pending by Rahn Jackson, Microsoft would not comment on the amended suit filed by the Stuart, Fla.-based law firm. But Microsoft spokesman Dean Katz on Tuesday 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."

    Gary claimed in a statement 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 claims.

    "These numbers demonstrate to the world that Microsoft is not interested in hiring or promoting Blacks," Gary said. "Just as the Justice Department has sought to stop their anti-trust behavior, we are seeking to change their culture. Their company should look more like America, and be just as diverse."

    Microsoft's Katz addressed the issue of diversity. "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 stimulate interest 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.

    Other legal battles
    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 problems 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 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.