Microsoft discrimination case grows

Celebrity lawyer Johnnie Cochran has filed a consolidated complaint on behalf of four plaintiffs in the ongoing discrimination suit against the company.

3 min read
Celebrity lawyer Johnnie Cochran has filed a consolidated complaint on behalf of four plaintiffs in the ongoing discrimination suit against Microsoft.

Three of the plaintiffs are current or former Microsoft employees in the Seattle area, and one is a former employee who worked in Texas, according to a news release from the law firm Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll.

One plaintiff, Monique Donaldson, initially filed a class-action lawsuit against Microsoft in October 2000.

Cochran's law firm--Cochran, Cherry, Givens and Smith--filed the amended complaint in U.S. District Court in Seattle on March 23, in conjunction with Cohen, Milstein, the firms said.

In addition to adding one new plaintiff and consolidating three other existing plaintiffs, the amended complaint seeks to raise the discrimination lawsuit to class-action status, expanding its reach to African-Americans employed by Microsoft from Oct. 4, 1997, through the commencement of trial, as well as females employed from Feb. 23, 1999, through the commencement of trial.

Attorney Steven Toll said his and Cochran's firms have not yet requested a specific amount.

"It's not specified, but it's potentially very, very large; it can easily be hundreds of millions of dollars or more," said Toll. "It will take expert witnesses to determine how much these people were under-compensated."

Toll said Judge Marsha Pechman could rule as early as this summer on whether the suit can be certified as class action. If so, hundreds of other African-American and female employees could potentially join the case.

Between now and then both sides will be presenting briefs.

Microsoft spokeswoman Ginny Terzano said the company was not surprised by the filing, which essentially just combined existing cases. Terzano would not comment more specifically on the cases but reiterated Microsoft's policy on discrimination. "Microsoft does not tolerate discrimination in any of its employment practices," she said. "We are 100-percent committed to diversity and there are several efforts underway at the company to encourage a more multicultural workforce."

Former Microsoft employee Rahn Jackson filed the initial $5 billion discrimination suit again Microsoft last June in Washington, D.C., alleging the company engaged in widespread discriminatory and retaliatory practices in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Jackson's attorneys later amended the lawsuit, adding six additional plaintiffs and petitioning for class-action status.

In October 2000, Cohen, Milstein filed a separate class-action lawsuit against Microsoft on behalf of Monique Donaldson in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.

Microsoft requested that all of the cases be consolidated and moved to Washington state. Before ruling on this request, U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, who oversaw the antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft, removed himself from the discrimination case.

Jackson has been accused of bias due to comments he made to reporters following the breakup ruling, including a comment that Microsoft founder Bill Gates "has a Napoleonic concept of himself and his company."

Attorney Steven Toll said he expects a new judge will be appointed to oversee the D.C. case and that the entire matter will likely be consolidated and moved to Washington state.