Sex claims and the 'wild ways' of Microsoft bosses laid bare
A culture of "excessive drunkeness" and lewd behaviour among senior staff at Microsoft in Britain has apparently been laid bare in a £10 million High Court battle between its UK chief and his former second in command.
Simon Negus was hired to follow in Gordon Frazer’s footsteps as general manager of Microsoft in the UK, but was dismissed in 2010 amid allegations that he had kissed a colleague, Toni Knowlson, at a company party in Atlanta and lied about it during a subsequent inquiry.
In what was described as a pattern of sexual misconduct and harassment towards female members of staff, Mr Negus, 50, was accused of “flirting and touching” Miss Knowlson, asking colleague Zobia Chughtai to “flutter her eyelashes”, and inviting Martina Redmond to stand on a chair so that people could see her short skirt.
Despite not being able to prove the allegations, Microsoft dismissed Mr Negus claiming he had lied during the investigation and took him to court demanding he return £75,000 of a £225,000 “golden hello” bonus paid on the condition he would stay for three years. Mr Negus, who is married and denies the claims, is now counter-suing the computer company for 15 years’ loss of earnings, harassment and wrongful dismissal.
In papers lodged at the High Court, Mr Negus described a Microsoft annual sales conference in which “drunkenness and outrageous misbehaviour were rife”.
He also claims Mr Frazer deliberately set out to block his rise through the company. His evidence about the Microsoft Global Exchange conference paints a picture of wild behaviour, fuelled by “unlimited quantities” of vodka and Jagermeister. According to the court papers, one director was so “ridiculously drunk” he followed Emma Cloney, a manager, into the ladies’ lavatories. Another executive was “so p***** he could not remember a thing”.
“The alcohol made freely available in unlimited quantities included neat vodka which could be drunk from an ice fountain, and a very strong German liquor called Jagermeister,” the papers added. Mr Negus, who claims he left a more senior position at Dell because of assurances he would eventually succeed Mr Frazer at Microsoft, was ranked as the top performing “level 69” partner at the company worldwide, posing a potential threat to his superior.
According to the court documents, Mr Frazer sent an email to Jean-Philippe Courtois, president of Microsoft International, outlining the plan to get rid of Mr Negus before the formal investigation into his behaviour had concluded.
The company claims that, although the kiss did not result in any formal action, “further very strong evidence” suggested Mr Negus had lied to the inquiry and this was why he was sacked.
According to the documents, Mr Frazer had already offered to cover Mr Negus’s role “between suspension and dismissal” and to “start recruitment for the permanent replacement” before the decision to end his employment was finalised.
It was also claimed that, during the investigation, Miss Redmond denied the short-skirt allegation although Ms Chughtai confirmed Mr Negus asked her to flutter her eyebrows. The allegation that Mr Negus kissed Miss Knowlson could not be proved.
A Microsoft spokesman said it would be “inappropriate to comment” on an ongoing court case”.