A former Microsoft employee has filed a lawsuit against the company, as well as her former manager and an additional unnamed employee, alleging that she was discriminated against based on her gender and marital status and ultimately terminated because of what she called “unfair and even false employment reviews.”
The ex-employee, Sunday Tollefson, spent 18 months at Microsoft as a program manager for the Worldwide Incentive Compensation team within the Marketing & Operations division. The lawsuit names Sudev Muthya, Tollefson’s direct manager when she was there, as a defendant as well as an anonymous individual known as John Doe #1.
Here is the crux of Tollefson’s lawsuit, which was filed in September in King County Superior Court and elevated to federal court this week:
During Tollefson’s tenure at Microsoft, she was constantly berated and belittled by Muthya when her male coworkers were not subjected to such harsh treatment. She was not permitted the same latitude to conduct meetings from home as male employees, she was criticized when, as a single mother, she had to miss work to care for her son when he was ill or had extra-curricular activities, but male employees were not criticized for taking time off for their childrens’ sports events, illnesses or activities, she was given approval to maintain hours that allowed her to use the Connector bus from her Bothell home, and then was punished for not attending meetings when she used that service, and more.
Microsoft issued the following statement on the case: “Microsoft is committed to a diverse and inclusive workforce and we take these issues seriously. We’ve carefully reviewed the complaint and believe the legal claims are unfounded.”
Originally, the complaint was only against Microsoft, but an amended version of the suit added Muthya and the unnamed defendant to the case. GeekWire reached out to Muthya, who is no longer with Microsoft, and he referred questions back to the company. Microsoft wouldn’t say why he left, but a spokesman noted that Muthya hadn’t received any complaints against him during his time with the company.
Tollefson alleges that at a 2014 company-sponsored event the unnamed defendant “aggressively grabbed Tollefson by the neck and shoved his tongue down her throat.” According to court documents, Tollefson reported the incident to human resources, and she was told that the employee was disciplined for “unwanted physical contact” after the complaint was substantiated.
Microsoft confirmed that the unnamed defendant was disciplined, but wouldn’t give details about the actions taken. Disciplinary actions in cases like these could include a dock in pay, demotion, loss of managerial privileges and termination.
After reporting the instance of sexual assault, Tollefson alleges in court documents was treated worse than she was previously.
In performance reviews, Tollefson alleges that Muthya “falsely and maliciously” indicated she had performed poorly and needed to demonstrate immediate improvement. “Muthya’s evaluations and management of Tollefson’s performance were false, derogatory and intended to ‘manage her out’ of her job and cause her termination when he knew or should have known that no cause existed,” according to court documents.
A Microsoft spokesperson disputed this allegation, saying that Tollefson had demonstrated ongoing performance issues that were well-documented.
Tollefson alleges she was terminated in March 2015, with the designation of “ineligible for re-hire.” That tag, according to court documents, makes her ineligible for future employment at Microsoft or with any vendors that work with the company.
The circumstances of the termination have “unduly limited prospects for future employment and have damaged her reputation in the marketplace, particularly by preventing her from working for a large class of employers,” according to the lawsuit.
Tollefson filed a complaint with the Washington State Human Rights Commission in September 2015, according to court documents, which transferred the matter to the the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in March. The commission issued a “right to sue” notice in June.
Tollefson is suing on charges of gender discrimination, wrongful termination and creating a hostile working environment. She is asking for damages in excess of typical limits for both lost pay and benefits and “loss of enjoyment of life, pain and suffering, mental anguish, emotional distress, and humiliation.”
Microsoft is in the middle of another gender discrimination case. Originally filed in 2015 by several current and former engineers, the suit alleges systemic discrimination against women in technical roles. In court documents for that case Microsoft said it has been committed to diversity and inclusion for more than 20 years. It has a 25-person team working on diversity issues, and a budget of more than $55 million per year through 2020 for new initiatives.
Microsoft reports that a little under 26 percent of its global workforce is female. In tech and leadership roles, the split is about 80/20 in favor of men.
In March, Kathleen Hogan, Microsoft’s executive vice president of human resources and chief people officer published an internal memo to employees citing specific numbers on how it deals with sexual harassment and gender discrimination claims from its 2017 fiscal year. During that year, Microsoft had 83 sexual harassment complaints and 84 gender discrimination complaints.
Hogan wrote that 50 percent of the harassment claims were found to be supported in full or in part, and more than half of those situations resulted in the termination of the accused employee. On gender discrimination, Microsoft found the complaints supported in part or in full only 10 percent of the time. The company took unspecified “appropriate action” in those cases, Hogan wrote.
“We strive to create an environment where everyone is respected, safe and able to do their best work,” Hogan wrote. “We aspire to ensure all voices are heard, that we listen deeply and that we are fair. We want people to be able to raise their concerns. We take these concerns seriously and we investigate them thoroughly. And where we find issues, we take appropriate action.”
Here is the full complaint: