Microsoft's board of directors announced Thursday that the company has hired a law firm to publicly investigate the company's handling of sexual harassment and gender discrimination claims, including allegations of inappropriate behavior by co-founder Bill Gates.
After years of complaints regarding Microsoft's investigations of employee issues, an assessment will be made.
The review will be conducted by Arent Fox.
"We're committed not just to reviewing the report but learning from the assessment so we can continue to improve the experiences of our employees," Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a statement. "I embrace this comprehensive review as an opportunity to continue to get better."
The assessment will compare Microsoft's handling of harassment to that of other companies, which goes beyond what was requested in the shareholder proposal led by Arjuna Capital. At the end of the third quarter, Arjuna had $17.5 million in Microsoft stock, its second-largest position.
Arent Fox will present a report to the board with suggestions, and management have stated that they would follow up with a plan of action to present to the board based on the recommendations. If necessary, the board intends to issue a public report on recommended changes to company culture.
Following claims that Bill Gates, Microsoft's co-founder and original CEO, had sought a sexual relationship with an employee in 2000, Nadella faced the matter in May.
A report about the issue was received by Microsoft, and a board committee investigated it.
Nadella emphasized that anyone may raise a complaint, even if it's two decades old, and the company will respond. The Microsoft board of directors announced Thursday that its report will summarize the findings of investigations, including the one involving Gates.
Female employees' complaints of harassment and discrimination in a 2019 email chain, as well as the company's response, will be considered in the board report. The shareholder proposal alluded to a 2012 class-action lawsuit against Microsoft in which 238 employees alleged sexual harassment, in addition to the Gates case and the emails.
Former Microsoft employee Katie Moussouris claimed in a lawsuit dropped in 2020 that Microsoft had formed a pattern of sex discrimination against women in technical and engineering jobs. In her original 2015 complaint, she stated that she had complained in 2008 about a male director who was harassing other female employees.
Microsoft discovered this to be true, but reassigned him to a different part of the organization while allowing him to keep his title. Moussouris claimed she protested after the director retaliated against her by giving her a low bonus; he was eventually promoted, she claimed.
Gates left Microsoft's board in 2020.