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Oliver v. Microsoft Corp.

United States District Court, N.D. California

August 5, 2013

K. OLIVER, Plaintiff,

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For K. Oliver, Plaintiff: Kathleen M. Lucas, Shawna Bree Casebier, LEAD ATTORNEYS, The Lucas Law Firm, San Francisco, CA.

For Microsoft Corporation, Defendant: Jessica Perry, Jessica R. Perry, Lynne C. Hermle, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, Menlo Park, CA; Kristen Marie Jacoby, Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, San Francisco, CA.


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Plaintiff K. Oliver was a well-paid, long time employee of Microsoft who had done well at the company. In the Fall of 2011, Oliver and four other female employees filed an internal discrimination complaint against her supervisor, John Halliwell, and a regional vice president. In the investigation that followed, Halliwell was found to have violated Microsoft's anti-discrimination and retaliation policies in connection with having changed Oliver's job responsibilities and title, and lowered her performance rating. Halliwell was fired, Oliver's performance rating was restored, and she was asked to reassume her full prior duties and job title. Contending she needed, and had been promised, a " fresh start" elsewhere in the company, Oliver declined to resume those duties, and Microsoft ultimately deemed her to have resigned.

Microsoft now seeks summary judgment in this action, which Oliver initiated while the internal investigation was pending. Microsoft contends Oliver suffered no legally-cognizable adverse employment action, that it acted appropriately to investigate and remedy any harm flowing from Halliwell's conduct, and that her claims are not otherwise tenable. Oliver insists Microsoft's findings that its own anti-discrimination policies were violated dooms its motion, and that it cannot show all the harm resulting from Halliwell's actions was ever remedied.

Contrary to Oliver's central argument, it does not follow from the finding of a violation of Microsoft's own policies that legally actionable discrimination, harassment, or retaliation took place. Microsoft has shown that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, and its motion will be granted.


Oliver began working for Microsoft in 2001, as a " Senior Consultant" based in the

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Chicago-Central Region office. During her nearly eleven years of continuous employment at Microsoft, she was regularly advanced into a number of different positions and was considered a " HiPo" or " High Potential Employee." Microsoft eventually persuaded Oliver to move to the San Francisco Bay Area to fill the position of " MTC Director" in the West Region, leading to her subsequent recruitment in May 2010 to be the SEL for the Northwest District (" NWD" ), reporting to John Halliwell.

Microsoft asserts that after a year as SEL, Oliver felt the job was too big for one person, as a result of a lack of support personnel. Microsoft contends Oliver approached John Cho about possibly splitting the job with him. Oliver insists she remained content in her SEL position, was regularly told she was a strong performer, and did not initiate the break-up of the SEL duties between herself and Cho. Rather, Oliver contends, at some point the position of Program Manager reporting to her was eliminated, thereby shifting those responsibilities onto her plate without additional support. Then in September of 2011, " much to her confusion and frustration," Oliver was " demoted" by Halliwell to be " Chief of Staff." Her SEL title, and the majority of her duties, were transferred to Cho. Oliver contends that, contrary to Microsoft's usual policies, Cho had been promised he would remain on a more lucrative " S" Comp" Plan, which ordinarily would have required that he have employees directly reporting to him. Oliver argues that Halliwell began disparaging her and suggesting that she was being " managed out for low performance," as a means to ensure that Cho could be compensated under the S Comp plan. Oliver complains that this conduct adversely affected her professional reputation and credibility in the company, for which there has been no remedy or compensation. In the same time frame, Halliwell allegedly recommended Oliver receive a " 2" on her annual performance review, a desirable rating, as only a very few of the higher " 1" ratings are assigned, but subsequently orchestrated a lower rating of " 3" for her, purportedly as part of the effort to favor Cho.

Oliver also contends she was discriminated against based on a medical condition, breast cancer, for which she was diagnosed in May 2008. She received her medical treatments in Chicago at Northwestern Medical Hospital, prior to her transfer to the San Francisco area. Following the first course of treatments, she was to return to Chicago for annual oncology check-ins and testing. Notwithstanding assurances Oliver received that she could return for the check-ins, which were scheduled a year in advance, Halliwell criticized her for having been in Chicago during an annual " quota setting process" in August of 2011. Oliver contends she put her upcoming absence on the Microsoft calendar weeks before quota setting dates were announced, and that the trip did not even conflict with the second week of quota setting, for which she had primary responsibility. She also contends she participated in the quota setting process through conference calls while in Chicago, and that the other director involved in the process never contacted her for support or guidance.

In September of 2011 Oliver and four other females filed an internal Complaint of Gender Discrimination against Halliwell and the Regional VP, Helmut Wilke. In the complaint, Oliver wrote: " Why was I consistently pressured to move out of the Sales Excellence role . . . ?" and " Why am I being pushed to 'go find my next role?'" She questioned the rating she received on her performance review. She also raised ...

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