A Texas judge has issued a final ruling against Microsoft, ordering the once-dominant software company to pay a leading former salesman $2 million in damages in a defamation, sexual harassment, and racial discrimination lawsuit.

The lawsuit accused Microsoft of "ostracizing," sexually harassing, and demoting former Japanese-American employee Michael Mercieca, despite his continually improving job performance. The suit claimed that managers began sabotaging his accounts and trumped up sexual harassment complaints against the salesman. The harassment began after Mercieca's former girlfriend Lori Aulds was promoted to be his boss. Aulds allegedly instigated the incidents. A unanimous jury sided against Microsoft in the case.

According to Mercieca's attorney's complaint:

On or about April 19, 2010, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Lori Aulds and other managers with Microsoft's Human Resources department, complaining of harassment, hostile work environment, and discrimination based on sex, age and national origin. From that point on, Microsoft's mistreatment and discriminatory treatment of Plaintiff intensified to include but not be limited to, a bad faith investigation by was performed on Plaintiff's formal complaint.

It wasn't just a "bad faith investigation" that impacted Mercieca. Aulds and other managers became blatantly racist to the salesman following the human resources complaint. Emphasis added:

[Aulds] made disparaging comments about Plaintiff's nation of origin and questioned his green card status and right to work for Microsoft; [...]

Disparaging comments were made about Plaintiff's nation of origin. One of the managers, Eddie O'Brien, is known throughout the company, for his disparaging comments about different nationalities, including one time when shortly after the recent tsunami in Japan, he said that "I would have zero pity for Japan. I would push them right under the bus and create another tsunami;"

Internal Microsoft human resource investigators were also accused of incompetence, allowing managers to make misleading statements without consequence, all while demoting the victim in the process:

Ms. Aulds lied to the investigator, Dan Shea, and said that she had not had a prior sexual relationship with Plaintiff in order to show Plaintiff as a liar. The lies Ms. Aulds told were key to the investigation. Even though Microsoft subsequently became aware of Ms. Aulds lies during an official investigation, Microsoft subsequently promoted Ms. Aulds and demoted Mr. Mercieca.

Microsoft's investigation into the sexual harassment complaint against Mercieca, which included alleged incidents that took place a year prior to Mercieca meeting the accuser, ultimately found the claims to be false. However, retaliation continued until Mercieca was ultimately fired.

As a result of the false allegations, Plaintiff has been subjected to undue strict scrutiny of his job performance, hostile work environment, continued harassment by Microsoft, retaliation, demotion and constructive discharge.

In a press release, Mercieca's attorney Paul T. Morin praised the ruling:

Rather than do the right thing, the management team went after Michael by getting a female employee to file a sexual harassment complaint and a complaint of retaliation against him. What could possibly be more cynical than to go after an employee trying to rid the workplace of discrimination by falsely making a claim of sexual harassment. Microsoft could have taken Mercieca's charges seriously and disciplined the senior manager, but instead chose to engage in the worst kind of corporate bullying.

To contact the author of this post, please email kevin@valleywag.com.

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