DETROIT: Microsoft Corp. women engineers who claim discrimination in pay and promotions won’t be allowed to pursue their lawsuit as a class action, in a major blow to the leading case attacking the male-dominated tech industry.
US District Judge James L. Robart issued a sealed order Monday denying class certification, without elaborating. The Seattle judge said the ruling won’t be made be public until both sides tell him what needs to be redacted, or kept private.
The denial deals a near-death blow to the lawsuit filed by three women on behalf of a proposed class of more than 8,630 high-level technical specialists. Class-action status would have given the women more leverage in pursuing their claims at trial or seeking a settlement. An appeal is likely. Similar cases are pending against Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Twitter Inc. and Oracle Corp., while Uber Technologies Inc. settled a class action in April.
Robart said at a June 11 hearing that the lawsuit had a “fatal” flaw in trying to prove that a uniform Microsoft corporate policy or action adversely affected women, a requirement for class actions. Robart said the women didn’t show enough of a common thread in their workplace experience. The standard was set in a 2011 decision by the US Supreme Court in a gender-bias case against Walmart Inc.
The Walmart decision has become a roadblock for employee class actions since 2011, with employers citing the ruling and workers’ lawyers seeking loopholes. Workers have had some success in asserting more narrowly defined classes than the sprawling, nationwide proposed group of 1.5 million women in the Walmart case, but their victories have been limited.
In the bid for group status by the Microsoft women, their lawyers cited recent decisions involving Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Merrill Lynch unit of Bank of America Corp., which have allowed narrower, more focused classes to be certified. Microsoft argued that the plaintiffs couldn’t show intentional discrimination or any company policy that could meet the commonality requirements of a class action.
“The judge made the right decision,’’ a Microsoft representative said in an emailed statement. “This case should not be a class action.’’ The company is committed to “increasing diversity and making sure that Microsoft is a workplace where everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed,’’ the representative said.
The women’s attorneys didn’t immediately respond to calls for comment.
The case was initially filed in September 2015 on behalf of women engineers and technicians and the proposed class would have included women in those high-level positions from Sept. 16, 2012, to the present. A plaintiffs’ expert estimated the pay gap between men and women for those technical and engineering jobs as, conservatively, $100 million, to a more expansive $238 million through May 2016. The plaintiffs also sought damages for lost compensation caused by lack of promotions.
The company denies having any policies that would lead to lower pay or prospects for women and insists that it promotes fair treatment.
The case is Moussouris v. Microsoft Corp., 15-cv-01483, US District Court, Western District of Washington (Seattle).