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Super-lawyer Willie Gary is the son of poor migrant farm workers from Georgia, but he is a multimillionaire now, and going up against the world’s richest man is unlikely to overawe him. Today in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., Gary’s Florida law firm, Gary, Williams, Parenti, Finney, Lewis, McManus, Watson & Sperando, filed a $5 billion class action against Microsoft, alleging racial discrimination in the Redmond giant’s employment practices. The filing is based on the case of Rahn Jackson, who worked from 1992 until 1999 in Microsoft’s Washington, D.C., office, eventually heading a team that sells software to the U.S. Army. That case is before the court of U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, the same judge who ruled last year that Microsoft should be divided in two for antitrust violations. Gary, whose firm is also pursuing a racial discrimination suit against Coca-Cola, is seeking to broaden the Microsoft case to include six more plaintiffs who are current and former employees of Microsoft, and to achieve class action status on behalf of hundreds of others. The lawsuit invokes Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and alleges racial discrimination in employee evaluations, compensation and promotions, and also wrongful termination and retaliatory tactics by Microsoft. “Microsoft does not tolerate discrimination in any of its employment practices,” said company spokesperson Ginny Terzano. “It takes any allegations of discrimination very seriously.” The complaint stands against a backdrop of racial imbalance that has dogged the entire software industry since its inception. Gary’s law firm says that 2.6 percent of Microsoft’s workforce was African-American in 1999, with only 1.6 percent in management positions being African-American. While the Redmond campus workforce is extraordinarily diverse, most people of color at Microsoft are foreign-born software experts, many from India or the Middle East. The most senior Hispanic is Colombian-born Orlando Ayala, one of the eight group vice presidents reporting to CEO Steve Ballmer. The company’s workforce includes relatively few U.S.-born blacks or Hispanics. “That’s an issue that is felt across the [software] industry, something the industry as a whole has acknowledged,” said Terzano. “It’s something Microsoft specifically is working aggressively to overcome.” One trade group, the Information Technology Association of America, estimates that African Americans, though they make up roughly 10 percent of the U.S. workforce, account for only 5 percent of the country’s computer programmers. Similarly, about 4 percent of the country’s programmers are Hispanic, while being 9 percent of the overall workforce. Terzano cites a series of programs Microsoft has supported to bridge the digital divide. Since 1995 it has given $86 million, mostly in the form of free software, to the United Negro College Funds. It has given more than $24 million in software to increase technology access for low-income students in the federally funded TRIO programs at 49 colleges and universities, and it has committed $30 million to information-technology training for underserved populations through the nation’s community college system. But is this largesse promoting diversity within Microsoft itself? Trish Millines Dziko is director of the Technology Access Foundation, a Seattle nonprofit that promotes computer education for minority schoolkids, and which received a grant of $188,000 for fiscal 2001 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. A former Microsoftie who in 1995 headed the company’s diversity-training program, Millines Dziko says that while she personally experienced no racial bias at Microsoft, she recalls the shock of going to work at a campus where there were “more white men than I’d ever seen in one place.” Millines Dziko argues that the United States in general needs to work on grooming homegrown technical talent. “We don’t have a lot of technical talent,” she says. “Other countries have seen the hole.” She said minority communities “have always been under-represented in corporate America,” and said Microsoft “is no different than anybody else.” Millenes Dziko said she believes that Microsoft is open to grooming local minority talent, but that it is not going about it the right way. “I think they are doing the best that they know how,” she says. “What they’re not doing is looking at what other people [outside the company] know they should be doing.” Corrections: An earlier version of this story stated that Bill Gates was named as adefendant in the suit. Only Microsoft, not Gates, is part of the suit. Related Articles from The Industry Standard: Reading Microsoft’s Tea Leaves Microsoft Awaits New Brand of Justice Department Microsoft Stretches .Net Over Great Plains Copyright � 2000 The Industry Standard

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