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Microsoft tries, fails to crush 'gender bias' lawsuit brought by its own women engineers

Redmond under fire for allegedly broken rating scheme

Microsoft has failed in a bid to shoot down a lawsuit alleging that its employee rating system was biased against women.

A US district court in Washington has tossed out [PDF] the Redmond giant's motion to dismiss a complaint lobbed at it by three women engineers, who allege the system for evaluating engineering and technical positions unfairly penalized them.

At issue is the Windows giant's much-maligned "stack ranking" process for evaluating employee performance, and the "Connect" system that replaced stack ranking.

The engineers allege that the review system relies on manager and peer input from a group that is overwhelmingly male and, as a result, the female employees they evaluated may have missed out on raises and promotions.

"Plaintiffs allege these performance evaluation methods are 'invalid' because they 'set arbitrary cutoffs among performers with similar performance' and are 'not based on valid and reliable performance measures'," the court's ruling, dated October 14, reads.

The aforementioned plaintiffs are Katherine Moussouris, Holly Muenchow, and Dana Piermarini, who are current and former Microsoft workers. They allege that the US tech titan infringed their civil rights and broke anti-discrimination laws.

"Furthermore, Plaintiffs allege that the 'vast majority (over 80 per cent)' of the managers at the calibration meetings and people discussions were men, and Plaintiffs posit that 'female technical employees were systematically undervalued compared to their male peers because as a group they received, on average, lower rankings despite equal or better performance'," the court order continues.

Microsoft, meanwhile, has disputed the claims and moved to have the allegations thrown out – a motion that Judge James Robart dismissed in this latest ruling.

Along with tossing the Microsoft motion, Judge Robart's ruling also sets a September 14, 2012 starting date for the claims, limiting the time period where current or former employees could claim damages in the case (the plaintiffs had asked that the window be extended to May, 2011).

With the motion denied, Microsoft is now heading to trial – unless, of course, it successfully negotiates a settlement or something else happens to halt the case.

"We’re committed to a diverse workforce, and to a workplace where all employees have the chance to succeed," a spokesperson for the biz told us. ®

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