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Microsoft Reverses Position, Vows To Support Anti-Discrimination Legislation

Under heavy fire from gay and lesbian groups as well as a number of its own employees, Microsoft has reversed an earlier decision and says it will support Washington state anti-discrimination legislation.

Reversing a position that had brought it under fire from gay and lesbian groups as well as a number of its own employees, Microsoft on Friday said it would support anti-discrimination legislation. In late April, Microsoft had withdrawn its support for a bill which failed to pass the Washington state Senate by one vote.

"I said in my April 22 email that we were wrestling with the question of how and when the company should engage on issues that go beyond the software industry," wrote Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, in a message sent to employees Friday morning and posted on the company's 'Channel 9' blog. "After thinking about this for the past two weeks, I want to share my decision with you and lay out the principles that will guide us going forward."

"Obviously, the Washington State legislative session has concluded for this year, but if similar legislation to HB 1515 is introduced in future sessions, we will support it," Ballmer added.

A Microsoft spokeswoman confirmed the authenticity of the post to TechWeb.

"After looking at the question from all sides, I've concluded that diversity in the workplace is such an important issue for our business that it should be included in our legislative agenda," Ballmer wrote. "Accordingly, Microsoft will continue to join other leading companies in supporting federal legislation that would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, adding sexual orientation to the existing law that already covers race, sex, national origin, religion, age and disability.

Microsoft had come under fire in late April when Ballmer sent an email to employees stating that the company was changing a previous position in support of the legislation to one of neutrality. At the time, Ballmer said essentially that the stance was being taken because, as a public company, Microsoft had to satisfy a broad base of shareholders. However, Microsoft immediately faced charges that it had knuckled under to pressure groups, which had threatened a boycott.

In a sign of debate within the company, a number of Microsoft employees had voiced dissatisfaction with that decision. On his blog, Microsoft technical evangelist Robert Scoble publicly criticized Ballmer and rallied internal opposition to the move.

Today, Scoble lauded Ballmer. "From my position, I'm elated," Scoble wrote Friday in a posting on his blog. "I hope that this lets us all move forward and heal some pretty deep rifts that were exposed."

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