An alleged culture of “outrageous behaviour” characterised by “excessive drunkenness” and lewd behaviour among Microsoft UK’s senior staff has been exposed in a £10 million High Court battle between its boss and former heir apparent.
Simon Negus, who was hired as a general manager to eventually succeed UK chief Gordon Frazer, was sacked by the US software giant in September last year.
Microsoft claimed that he kissed colleague Toni Knowlson in full view of others at an annual sales conference in Atlanta in 2009, but “very strong evidence” subsequently came to light that he lied about it during a subsequent formal inquiry.
Negus was also accused of “flirting and touching’ Knowlson, asking a second colleague Zobia Chughtai to “flutter her eyelashes” and a third Martina Redmond to stand on a chair so that people could see her short skirt.
According to the Daily Telegraph
, although Microsoft was unable to prove the allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment towards the female staff members, it dismissed him anyway due to his alleged lack of honesty during the probe.
The vendor also took Negus to court demanding that he return £75,000 of a £225,000 ‘golden hello’ bonus, paid on condition that he would remain with the company for three years.
Negus, who is married and denies the allegations, is now counter-suing Microsoft for 15 years’ loss of earnings, harassment and wrongful dismissal.
In papers lodged at the High Court, he said that he had left a more senior position at Dell
due to assurances that the would eventually succeed Frazer as Microsoft UK’s general manager. He was ranked the company’s top performing partner worldwide, which posed a threat to his superior, however.
Negus claimed that Frazer deliberately set out to block his rise through the company, sending an email to the president of Microsoft International Jean-Philippe Courtois, which outlined a plan to get rid of him before the investigation into his behaviour had ended.
He also described the Microsoft Global Exchange conference where the alleged kiss with Knowlson took place as one in which “drunkenness and outrageous misbehaviour were rife”.
Negus painted a picture of wild scenes fuelled by “unlimited quantities” of alcohol, indicating that one director was so “ridiculously drunk” that he followed a manager, Emma Cloney, into the ladies’ toilet. Another executive was allegedly “so p….d he could not remember a thing”.
Microsoft said it refused to comment on an on-going court case, however.