Microsoft has tapped an outside law firm to probe its handling of workplace sexual harassment, including allegations against its founder Bill Gates, the company revealed on Thursday.
The tech giant said law firm Arent Fox will compile a report detailing the effectiveness of its internal policies on workplace sexual harassment and gender discrimination. The announcement followed mounting pressure from shareholders to address the situation.
The report will include a summary of any investigations into top Microsoft executives, including its board’s 2019 investigation into claims against Gates. The billionaire was accused of engaging in an inappropriate relationship with a female Microsoft employee.
“Our culture remains our number one priority and the entire Board appreciates the critical importance of a safe and inclusive environment for all Microsoft employees,” Microsoft Chairman and CEO Satya Nadella said in a statement.
“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,” he added.
In November, Microsoft shareholders overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling on the company to allow an “independent and transparent” review of its workplace harassment policies. The resolution said an independent probe was necessary to “avoid legal and reputational risk and maintain shareholder value.”
Last May, the Wall Street Journal reported that Microsoft’s board launched an investigation after an engineer said she had a sexual relationship with Gates. A separate New York Times report said Gates asked another employees out on a date immediately after she delivered a presentation he attended.
Gates stepped down from Microsoft’s board in March 2020, citing a desire to focus on philanthropic endeavors.
The board’s 2019 investigation was not completed following his exit. Microsoft said Gates’ decision to step down was unrelated to the allegations.
Arent Fox will publicly release its report with details on Microsoft’s policies and training on workplace misconduct. The investigation will include a review of the company’s response to a 2019 email thread in which female employees detailed allegations of workplace harassment and discrimination.
The report will include data on the number and outcome of the company’s internal sexual harassment probes, as well as steps Microsoft has taken to hold employees accountable for misconduct. The law firm’s findings are expected this spring.
Microsoft said the Arent Fox firm “has not previously been involved in representing Microsoft in employment matters, nor has it done a significant amount of work for the company in the past.”