Do 238 Harassment and Discrimination Complaints Mean Microsoft’s Environment is Toxic?

Microsoft spends around $55 million dollars per year on diversity and inclusion efforts, but that hasn’t stopped complaints of gender discrimination and sexual harassment. A lawsuit against Microsoft was filed in 2015, and on Monday new documents were made public. These show that out of the 8000 similarly situated women, 238 complaints of gender discrimination and harassment had been filed between 2010 and 2016.

Do 238 Harassment and Discrimination Complaints Mean Microsoft’s Environment is Toxic?

These are internal complaints, not lawsuits or EEOC cases. These are complaints from one or more employees regarding something that occurred at Microsoft.

Interestingly, 118 of those were gender discrimination claims and the company only considered one to be based in fact.

In an earlier statement to Fortune, a Microsoft spokesperson said:

“Microsoft encourages employees to raise concerns and has numerous channels for them to do so. We take each concern seriously and have a separate team of experienced professionals whose job it is to investigate these types of allegations thoroughly and in a neutral way, and to reach a fair conclusion based on the evidence.”

If Microsoft truly follows this, it seems unlikely that less than one percent of complaints were found to be based in fact. Microsoft argued in favor of keeping this information confidential because they, said, if it came to light people would be discouraged from complaining.

That’s for sure. If you know that there’s less than a 1 percent of your case being considered founded, why would you go through the agony, stress, and potential backlash by complaining?

Retaliation for filing a protected complaint is illegal. (That is, you can’t be retaliated against for complaining about sexual harassment, but if you complain that the company cafeteria makes gross food, that’s not a protected complaint.) But, it’s very difficult to keep someone from feeling like they’ve been retaliated against if the investigation doesn’t go their way.

Does this Expose a Toxic Environment?

It’s absolutely true that not every complaint is founded. Things that unfair to an individual may not be unfair when all the facts are gathered. But, if there are a sufficient number of complaints, you know you have a problem.

Gender discrimination and sexual harassment claims are very different things, and gender discrimination can be difficult to prove. Evaluations can be somewhat subjective, even in a technical environment. And there are numerous factors other than gender that would cause a boss to assign Jane to project X and John to project Y. You don’t want to have an environment where every manager has to second guess his or her decisions.

But, what we don’t have are the number of sexual harassment cases that Microsoft did consider credible. The Guardian reports that the sexual harassment situation was toxic. They write:

At least three women reported sexual assault or rape by male co-workers, including a female intern who alleged rape by a male intern, reported the rape to the police as well as her supervisor and HR, and yet was forced to work alongside her accused rapist.

If this is true then there is definitely a problem. Even if they determined that the woman was lying through her teeth, it’s unfair to have the male intern continue to work with a woman who tried to destroy his life. That is a serious problem.

If you feel you’re being discriminated against or sexually harassed there are reasons to not report and to simply move on. Reporting can cause you stress, even if the company acts responsibly. But, it’s your right to report and your right to be protected when you do so. Companies need to take all complaints seriously and if only a tiny number are considered credible, the company needs to evaluate their procedures. It’s unlikely that 117 out of 118 complaints were just the imagination of some woman.There’s a disconnect somewhere and that needs to be fixed.

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