Washington Supreme Court revives Microsoft employee's retaliation case

By Takesha Thomas | Dec 18, 2018

OLYMPIA, Wash. (Legal Newsline) – A former employee of Microsoft Corp. has been granted a reversal in her retaliation case against the tech giant.

On Nov. 29, the Supreme Court of the state of Washington reversed and remanded the matter involving Dawn Cornwell and Microsoft, ruling that the trial court erroneously granted summary judgment to Microsoft.

The court, in a decision written by Justice Charles K. Wiggins, found that Cornwell in fact presented enough evidence to "create a dispute of fact about whether there was a causal link between her poor performance rating and termination and the previous lawsuit she filed against Microsoft."

The Court of Appeals had ruled that Cornwell failed to present enough evidence showing that her supervisors had "sufficient knowledge that she had taken a protected action under the Washington Law Against Discrimination." 

"The evidence tends to show that both of Cornwell's supervisors had actual knowledge that Cornwell had previously engaged in protected activity before they subjected her to adverse employment action," Wiggins wrote.

According to the court opinion, Cornwell settled a discrimination case against Microsoft involving a supervisor and Cornwell was no longer required to work under that person. However, Cornwell claims that seven years later her new manager gave her a poor performance review. 

Cornwell had never received a bad review prior and claims that the it wasn't until she revealed that she had filed the prior lawsuit did the poor performance review occur. 

According to court opinion, Cornwell's new supervisor "sought more information about the lawsuit from human resources and her direct supervisor." However, "human resources did not have any information on file about the lawsuit and promised to follow up on the issue."

Cornwell contended that the two supervisors "had actual knowledge that Cornwell filed the prior lawsuit against Microsoft. Shortly after learning this, and over the objection of other managers, they gave Cornwell the lowest possible review rating, and Cornwell was laid off." 

"In light of this evidence, the trial court erroneously granted summary judgment to Microsoft," Wiggins wrote.

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