By Khadeeja Safdar
Microsoft Corp. said it was contacted last week by the federal government to see whether its pledge to hire more Black employees constitutes unlawful discrimination by a government contractor.
The software company said the agency overseeing federal contractors is questioning whether its initiative to double the number of Black managers and leaders in its U.S. workforce by 2025 violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
"We have every confidence that Microsoft's diversity initiative complies fully with all U.S. employment laws," Microsoft general counsel Dev Stahlkopf said in a blog post.
Black employees represent about 4.5% of Microsoft's U.S. workforce and less than 3% of senior roles, according to the company's 2019 diversity report. That compares with about 13% of the U.S. population.
Microsoft made the pledge to improve its diversity ranks in June, as well as a commitment to invest an additional $150 million over five years in diversity and inclusion programs. After the killing of George Floyd in May, it was one of several companies, from Germany's Adidas AG to Silicon Valley's Facebook Inc., to make pledges to hire more Black employees.
In its letter to Microsoft, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs suggested this initiative "appears to imply that employment action may be taken on the basis of race." The letter asked Microsoft to prove the actions it is taking aren't illegal race-based decisions, according to the software maker.
The OFCCP is an agency within the U.S. Department of Labor that oversees companies like Microsoft that are federal contractors. A spokesman for the Labor Department didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.
Last month, the Trump administration issued an executive order that prohibits companies with federal contracts from participating in training that "promotes race or sex-stereotyping or scapegoating." The OFCCP has created a hotline for workers to report their companies for potentially violating the order.
In June, Microsoft also said it would step up efforts to fight racial disparities outside the company, including setting up a $50 million investment fund focused on supporting Black-owned small businesses. The company pledged to use data and technology to identify racial disparities in the criminal-justice system and improve policing.
"We believe it is a core part of our mission to make our company, our community and our country a place where people of diverse views and backgrounds are welcomed and can thrive," Microsoft said in its blog post.
Write to Khadeeja Safdar at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires