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Microsoft Hit with $11.6M Verdict for Wrongful Termination of Salesman

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ustin, Texas -- After three years of litigation, which culminated in a highly contentious two week trial, a Travis County jury awarded a software salesman $11.6 million on May 7 against Microsoft Corporation.

Michael Mercieca, a 17-year veteran of Microsoft, was represented by Paul T. Morin and Roy A. Pollack of Austin, Texas, who proved that he was wrongfully discharged and that Microsoft engaged in discriminatory practices with malice and reckless indifference.

The case involved Mercieca's manager, Regional Sales Director Lori Aulds -- his ex-girlfriend -- who vengefully conspired with top management and a female outside contractor to force him out of his job.

The jury deliberated two days, poring over more than 600 exhibits, with Judge Tim Sulak of Travis County's 353rd Civil District Court presiding. "The Travis County jury delivered a powerful message to Microsoft and the business world that such offensive conduct would not be tolerated in the workplace," Morin said.

A conspiracy in management

Mercieca was a senior sales rep in the Austin who sold OEM software to businesses in Texas. At age 50, he was a single dad who "lived, breathed and died" Microsoft, according to attorney Pollack. Regional Sales Director Lori Aulds, with whom he had a prior sexual relationship, began scheming to force him out of his job after she was promoted over him. He was marginalized, isolated and excluded from customer events.

When it became unbearable at work, he filed an internal complaint against his ex-girlfriend manager, her supervisor National Sales Director David Tannebaum and the vice president of the OEM team, Eddie O'Brien.

Two weeks later, his manager conspired with an outside contractor, Tracy Rummel, who filed a trumped-up sexual harassment complaint against him in 2009. Rummel also claimed that Mercieca retaliated against her by removing her as a marketing consultant from the Bass Computer account.

As proven at the trial, the charges by Rummel were false. In spite of that, the manager, her supervisor and Microsoft's HR department connived to give Mercieca negative performance reviews. "The management team went after him by going to her to get her to file her sexual harassment complaint and complaint of retaliation against him," Morin said.

She gets a promotion, he gets a bad review

In September 2010, the internal investigations found both Mercieca's complaint and the sexual harassment complaint to be unsupported. However his manager got a promotion.

In contrast, Mercieca's new manager gave him a "5" in his performance review -- the worst possible grade -- even though Mercieca met all his sales goals and earned millions for Microsoft. It came out at the trial that the new manager wanted to give him a better review, but upper management pressured him to give a 5.

Mercieca filed a defamation suit against Tracy Rummel in 2011, also charging Microsoft with wrongful discharge. He was forced to work from home and eventually resigned in 2012.

The total amount awarded by the jury is $11,623,064.24. The case is Michael Mercieca v. Tracy Rummel and Microsoft Corporation, No. D-1-GN-11-001030, District Court of 353rd Judicial District, Travis County, Texas.

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