Microsoft's "Reasonable" Position on State Bill

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Microsoft's "Reasonable" Position on State Bill

In what was otherwise a decent column, the Wall Street Journal's Alan Murray reached a poorly reasoned conclusion yesterday related to Microsoft's flip-flop on a bill in Washington State to ban anti-gay discrimination in housing and employment. (MSFT is based in Redmond, Wash.)

Murray writes (subscription only):
The problem began earlier this year, when Microsoft, under pressure from a conservative National Football League linebacker-turned-preacher, decided to stay neutral in the battle over a bill in its home state of Washington banning workplace discrimination against homosexuals.

That seemed like a reasonable decision.
Reasonable? Hell, no. Murray tries to explain himself:
The company has been a leader in providing benefits to gays in its own work force. Why should it feel obliged to join the battle outside?
Why? Because there's something known as "corporate citizenship" -- MSFT has a web page on its corporate site devoted to these two words, meaning the company is accepting certain responsibilities.

On this page, MSFT pledges itself to "work with businesses, communities, and governments to help advance social and economic well–being, and to enable people around the world to realize their full potential."

Needless to say, it's pretty hard for gay people to realize their "full potential" if they're denied a job or promotion because of their sexual orientation.

It's annoying that Murray would use MSFT's gay-tolerant workplace policies as an excuse to let the company off the hook on the Washington State bill. In the 1980's, to my knowledge, no large U.S. corporation operated under segregationist, apartheid-style employment policies. But that didn't stop activists from properly pressuring these companies to divest themselves of investments in then-apartheid-laden South Africa.

Finally, MSFT's decision to sit on the sidelines concerning the Washington State bill not only was at odds with the expectations created by the company, but it also was strangely in conflict with MSFT's position endorsing the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).

And what ENDA seeks to do at the national level is essentially what the Washington State bill would do at the state level.

I'm guessing that Murray isn't aware that MSFT has endorsed ENDA. If Murray had known this, I doubt he would have termed MSFT's neutral position on the state bill "reasonable." It was anything but reasonable.

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