In a memo to Microsoft employees today, CEO Steve Ballmer announced that the company would support expanding state and federal bans on workplace discrimination to include gays and lesbians:
After looking at the question from all sides, I’ve concluded that diversity in the workplace is such an important issue for our business that it should be included in our legislative agenda. Since our beginning nearly 30 years ago, Microsoft has had a strong business interest in recruiting and retaining the best and brightest and most diverse workforce possible. I’m proud of Microsoft’s commitment to non-discrimination in our internal policies and benefits, but our policies can’t cover the range of housing, education, financial and similar services that our people and their partners and families need. Therefore, it’s appropriate for the company to support legislation that will promote and protect diversity in the workplace.
Accordingly, Microsoft will continue to join other leading companies in supporting federal legislation that would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation — adding sexual orientation to the existing law that already covers race, sex, national origin, religion, age and disability. Given the importance of diversity to our business, it is appropriate for the company to endorse legislation that prohibits employment discrimination on all of these grounds. Obviously, the Washington State legislative session has concluded for this year, but if legislation similar to HB 1515 is introduced in future sessions, we will support it.
Here is background on the story from ZDNet:
The issue exploded into public consciousness several weeks ago after Seattle newspaper The Stranger reported that Microsoft had backed off support for a state antidiscrimination bill after being contacted by a conservative local pastor.
That pastor, a leader in conservative religious organizations’ opposition to gay marriage and nondiscrimination legislation, said he had threatened Microsoft with a boycott of the company’s products if it supported the state bill. Microsoft executives later said their position on the bill was not related to the pastor’s pressure, but connected to a broader company policy of avoiding taking divisive positions on “social issues.”
The Washington bill subsequently failed by a single vote. Gay and lesbian organizations, which previously had applauded the company’s internal policies of support for nondiscrimination, criticized the company widely over the situation. At least one prominent gay employee resigned this week from the company, according to The Stranger.