Pervasive sexual harassment alleged at Microsoft, including death threats to coerce sex

An internal email chain alleges pervasive discrimination at the company

Microsoft campus

A new report suggests that there are pervasive sexual harassment problems at Microsoft, both at both the gaming-focused Xbox brand and across the company. One female employee alleges she received death threats over implied sexual favours. Another says that a pervasive number of women at the company “had been called a bitch at work.” Other tech and gaming companies, notably Riot, have faced similar accusations of discrimination in the past.

These allegations come via an internal Microsoft email chain obtained by Quartz – the outlet says it has verified the contents of the email with a pair of Microsoft employees. The emails began on March 20 as one employee asked other women in the company about advancement after six years in the same position. That chain has grown to over 90 pages worth of discussion from women at the company, including numerous reports of discrimination and sexual harassment.

One female employee says that during a work trip, a male employee at a partner company threatened to kill her if she refused to perform implied sexual acts. “My male manager told me that ‘it sounded like he was just flirting’ and I should ‘get over it.’ HR basically said that since there was no evidence, and this man worked for a partner company and not Microsoft, there was nothing they could do.”

A senior level female employee at Microsoft says she was asked to sit on someone’s lap at a company meeting, “in front of HR and other executives. I can assure you that nothing was done. I alone objected and cited Microsoft policy. The person said that he did not have to listen and repeated the request a second time. No one said anything.”

Yet another woman at the company says that at roundtable with women in the Xbox team, everyone there, with one exception, “had been called a bitch at work.” She adds that this is not “just an Xbox thing” – apparently a common dismissal of sexual discrimination at the company – and she says she’s had the same experiences with the Windows and Azure teams. “This is a Microsoft thing,” she says, “a common one.”

Kathleen Hogan, head of HR at Microsoft, replied to the email chain on March 29, saying that “We are appalled and sad to hear about these experiences. It is very painful to hear these stories and to know that anyone is facing such behavior at Microsoft. We must do better. I would like to offer to anyone who has had such demeaning experiences including those who felt were dismissed by management or HR to email me directly. I will personally look into the situation with my team.”

Quartz says a Microsoft spokesperson has verified the content of Hogan’s message. A regularly scheduled meeting at the company today is expected to include questions around and discussion of the accusations in the email chain.

A year ago, a lawsuit was filed against Microsoft alleging that the company failed to properly take action over 238 complaints of sexual harassment, discrimination, and – in the most extreme case – rape.

In the email chain, one employee writes “This thread has pulled the scab off a festering wound. The collective anger and frustration is palpable. A wide audience is now listening. And you know what? I’m good with that.”