Microsoft Corp. is eliminating a requirement that employees pursue sexual harassment and gender bias claims through arbitration instead of in court, after revelations this year of improper behavior across technology, entertainment and other industries.
The tech giant also endorsed a bill introduced by Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham that would prevent companies from contractually requiring employees to settle these kinds of cases behind closed doors.
“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,” Microsoft Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith said Tuesday in a blog post announcing the actions.
The harassment allegations brought new scrutiny to the practice of private arbitration, which in many cases has helped keep these cases out of the public eye, and potentially kept the accused from facing more serious consequences. Companies have increasingly included non-disparagement and non-disclosure clauses in employee contracts, as well as ones that prevent workers from suing in court.
While arbitration clauses are not standard at Microsoft, the company’s move makes it a prominent early adopter of policies that could combat inappropriate behavior in the workplace by making such misconduct public.
In 2015, three female employees brought a lawsuit alleging gender discrimination against Microsoft, seeking class-action status. Recently unsealed documents from the case detailed harassment complaints and settlements, internal skepticism around gender pay equality and incidents investigated by human resources. The stories from the files shed light on how the company struggled to handle sexual harassment and gender bias complaints.
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