Switch on discrimination bill fuels Microsoft critics

REDMOND, WA: Microsoft has invited harsh criticism of its priorities after reversing positions on an anti-discrimination bill - and hinting it may change its stance again.

REDMOND, WA: Microsoft has invited harsh criticism of its priorities after reversing positions on an anti-discrimination bill - and hinting it may change its stance again.

The software giant had long supported Washington state bill 1515, which would have prohibited discrimination based on "sexual orientation" in insurance, employment, and housing matters. But the company recently changed its stance, pulling support and declaring itself neutral on the issue.

However, highly public criticism from gay-rights groups and staffers, many of whom claimed the company caved in to pressure from right-wing organizations, led chairman Bill Gates last week to tell The Seattle Times the company would rethink its decision should similar legislation come up again.

Bill 1515 was defeated by one vote in April.

Microsoft could not be reached for comment.

While a local pastor has claimed a threatened boycott helped sway Microsoft, the company has said that its decision was not externally influenced. The backlash has led the LA Gay and Lesbian Center (LAGLC) to revoke the Corporate Vision Award it gave Microsoft in 2001.

"It's amazing how poorly they've handled this," said Jim Key, chief public affairs officer for the LAGLC.

Some Microsoft employees assailed the company through blog postings. One staffer even posted an internal memo from CEO Steve Ballmer after the PR department granted him permission.

Mike Lawrence, EVP of crisis and issues management for Cone Communications, said that Microsoft failed by reversing its decision.

"Before you take a position, you must realize [that] once you do, you must stick with it," Lawrence said. "Otherwise you leave a giant muddle where everybody is angry."

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