Microsoft, Plaintiffs Settle Temp Lawsuits

Microsoft has reached a $97 million settlement of federal lawsuits from temporary workers who challenged the software giant’s employment practices, Microsoft and attorneys for the temps announced today.

Between 8,000 and 12,000 current and former employees are expected to receive payments under the settlement, said plaintiffs’ attorney Stephen Strong in Seattle.

The settlement, worked out with assistance from U.S. District Judge William Dwyer, was given preliminary approval by Judge John Coughenour today.

Dual Plaintiff Goals Reached

“The case was brought to achieve two goals: to challenge the two-tier employment at Microsoft and to recover benefits for employees. We feel we achieved those to a large degree,” Strong said.

Many temporary workers have been converted to so-called regular jobs since the lawsuits were filed in 1992, he said.

While a range of benefits were at issue, “the one that we won on was exclusion from the employee stock-purchase plan at Microsoft,” he said.

The payments plaintiffs receive will vary based on the time period of the work involved, and the duration of employment, said Strong, who worked with attorney David Stobaugh on the case.

At any given time, Microsoft employs 5,000 to 6,000 temporary staff or contingency workers, company spokesman Matt Pilla said. Microsoft employs 42,000 people worldwide — about 21,000 of them in the Puget Sound area.

“We’re pleased to reach an agreement that’s acceptable to all sides and which resolves the litigation,” Pilla said. “Microsoft as always has been an excellent place to work and we value every individual who contributes to our products and services.”

Microsoft is “constantly evaluating employee policies to ensure the company continues to be a great place to work,” he said.

Constantly Evolving Policies

Changes made since the mid-1990s “are such that the complaint against us would not have been filed if they had been in place. We’re confident of that.”

“It’s obviously a very major victory for long-term temp workers at Microsoft,” said Marcus Courtney, a two-year temp who co-founded the pro-union Washington Alliance of Technology Workers — backed by the Communication Workers of America — in 1998. WashTech has attempted to organize workers at Microsoft and other high-technology companies.

In the mid-1990s, Pilla said, Microsoft adjusted the guidelines managers use to determine if an assignment should be a regular position or one to assign to a temporary.

Microsoft also has changed the way it selects temporary-staffing agencies to favor companies that offer better benefits, he said, and has limited the length of temporary assignments to 12 months.

The company announced in February that it would set the one-year limit for temp workers and require a 100-day break between assignments. The new policy took effect in July.

More than a third of Microsoft’s new hires over the past three years have been former temporary workers, the company said at that time.