Lawmakers are calling on Microsoft to ban private arbitration in all discrimination cases, not just sexual harassment and gender discrimination.
Microsoft announced this week it will no longer require employees to resolve sexual harassment and gender discrimination claims through private arbitration.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus wrote to Microsoft Tuesday asking that the giant software maker extend that new policy to other forms of workplace discrimination such as race, gender identification and expression, sexual orientation and religion.
“While we commend Microsoft for steps it has taken to prevent workplace discrimination, more can be done,” Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Illinois), Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-New Jersey) and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Missouri) wrote to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.
Microsoft did not respond to a request for comment.
The letter, obtained by USA Today, comes as the widening #MeToo sexual abuse scandal puts growing pressure on the legal contracts that keep victims from making their case in open court.
An estimated 60 million Americans are required to address claims before a private arbiter as a condition of employment. Critics say these clauses, which are common in the technology industry, hide incidents of harassment and discrimination from the public and shield predators, allowing workplace misconduct to fester and spread.
Microsoft, which is battling a class action gender discrimination lawsuit, says less than 1% of its 125,000 employees have arbitration clauses in their employment agreements. It’s waiving those clauses in sexual harassment and gender discrimination cases but, in other claims including racial discrimination, the company could still use arbitration.
That, says San Francisco civil rights and employment lawyer Cliff Palefsky, is “discriminating between discrimination claims.”
“Microsoft deserves a lot of credit for taking this stand in support of the civil rights laws. But there really is no principled reason to distinguish sex discrimination cases from other forms of illegal discrimination and harassment,” said Palefsky, a longtime critic of forced arbitration. “Race discrimination, age discrimination and disability claims are entitled to equal dignity.”
Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer Brad Smith announced in a blog post Tuesday his company’s decision to support new legislation that would rid employment contracts of arbitration provisions in sexual harassment and gender discrimination cases. In the post, he also said Microsoft would eliminate those provisions in the few remaining employee contracts that contain them.
“Even as we look squarely at the sins of the past, we must take stronger steps to prevent these problems in the future,” Smith wrote.
“Because the silencing of voices has helped perpetuate sexual harassment, the country should guarantee that people can go to court to ensure these concerns can always be heard.”
The widening sexual abuse scandal that has ousted men from powerful posts in the business world has begun to shift policies and norms in the workplace. But the response has been focused on sexual harassment and gender discrimination and, for the most part, on the experiences of educated and wealthy white women and not on more marginalized voices such as people of color, working people and poor people.
The Senate bill, co-sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), that would ban private arbitration in sexual harassment and gender discrimination cases does not address other forms of discrimination.
Centering efforts on women is a common criticism of diversity efforts underway in the technology industry, which is made up of mostly white and Asian men. At Microsoft, 74% of global workers are men, and in the U.S., 4% of its staff are African American and 5.9% are Hispanic, according to the company’s 2017 estimates. In the company’s leadership and technical ranks, women and people of color are even more sparsely represented.
“Despite efforts from the tech industry to diversify its workforce, the industry has fallen short of its goals. This creates concern among Americans of an inherent bias in the industry,” lawmakers wrote to Microsoft, citing a recent survey from the Pew Research Center that found that two-thirds of African Americans and half of Hispanic Americans see racial discrimination as a major problem in the tech industry. “Removing forced arbitration from Microsoft’s employee contracts is a simple way to create a more inclusive culture.”
Source: USA TODAY (Jessica Guyann)
Photo Credit: Windows Central
Photo Credit: SiliconANGLE