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Microsoft to pay $14.4-million settlement over alleged parental, disability leave discrimination

Microsoft will pay a $14.4-million settlement after California’s Civil Rights Department accused the company of retaliation and discrimination against workers who take parental or disability leave, or leave to take care of a family member.

Workers at Microsoft in California experience disadvantages in pay and promotion opportunities when they take these types of protected leave, a multiyear investigation by the Civil Rights Department found.

Employees who took protected leave would receive lower bonuses and unfavorable performance reviews, the department said in its complaint, filed July 1 in Santa Clara County. When Microsoft managers awarded annual bonuses, stock awards, or merit increases they did not consider time on protected leave as time where employees were actively working — although other forms of leave were not discounted, according to the complaint.

Women and people with disabilities were disproportionately affected, the department alleged.

Some Microsoft managers also allegedly commented negatively about employees who took leave, and workers have reported concerns with retaliation after requesting or taking protected leave.

“Microsoft’s challenged actions are ongoing and will continue to harm,” the complaint states.

Microsoft spokesperson Sarah Naciri said the company disagreed with the allegations.

“Microsoft is committed to an environment that empowers our employees to take leave when needed and provides the flexibility and support necessary for them to thrive professionally and personally,” Naciri said in an emailed statement. “While we believe the agency’s allegations are inaccurate, we will continue to listen, learn, and support our employees.”

Although Microsoft is headquartered in Redmond, Wash., it maintains offices and employees in California, mostly concentrated in the Bay Area.

Nearly all the money from the agreement will go toward current and former employees eligible for direct relief. A worker is eligible if they worked for Microsoft in California in 2017 or later for at least three months and took a leave of absence protected under state or federal law.

As part of the settlement, Microsoft agreed to hire an independent consultant to examine and make recommendations on the company’s personnel policies to ensure managers do not consider time on protected leave in determining annual rewards and promotions.

The company also agreed to train managers and human resources personnel about this kind of discrimination, and to ensure employees know how to raise complaints if they believe they were denied annual bonuses or other awards unfairly.

Additionally, the independent consultant will provide annual reports to the Civil Rights Department on how complaints of discrimination are received and processed.

Last month, California’s Civil Rights Department reached a $15-million settlement to resolve allegations of sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation at Snap, the Santa Monica-based company that created the popular social media app Snapchat.

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