Two former Microsoft Corp. workers have sued the tech giant, claiming that their jobs were responsible for the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and auditory hallucinations. The complaint says that Microsoft was negligent and violated prohibitions of discrimination based on disabilities. The lawsuit was filed on Dec. 30.
The two plaintiffs, Henry Soto and Greg Blauert, are former members of Microsoft’s Online Safety Team. Their work involved reviewing abuse, murder, child pornography, bestiality, and other graphic material flagged for removal. The division is also responsible for upholding the company’s legal obligation to pass on any illegal images to the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
The plaintiffs claim that they suffered severe psychological distress after years of being made to watch the ‘most twisted’ videos on the internet. The material to be reviewed had been flagged by automated software as being potentially illegal. When an image is reported or flagged by the automated software, a human being is required to view the material and forward it on to the authorities. Microsoft says that people with this role are kept in a “different office” from other staff and were only required to do this particular task for a short period of time.
Mr. Soto was one of the first employees in the department and claims he was “involuntarily transferred” there. Mr. Soto also says that he was “not informed prior to the transfer as to the full nature” of the job. The lawsuit claims that Mr. Soto suffered from sleep disturbance, nightmares, irritability, increased startle, and anticipatory anxiety. It also says, “He suffered from an internal video screen in his head and could see disturbing images.”
Mr. Blauert cited similar concerns about the job and claims that he began experiencing nightmares and intrusive images. Both men say they were not given proper mental-health support to cope with the impact of reviewing the material. They allege that Microsoft refused to provide a specially trained therapist or to pay for therapy. Both men have been diagnosed with PTSD and are currently on leave from work.
The two former employees and their families are suing for damages for permanent psychological injuries. They were denied worker’s compensation for those injuries. Microsoft said in a statement that it disagreed with the plaintiffs’ claims. The company said in its statement that the health and safety of employees who handle such material is a priority and that it works to ensure such workers have the resources and support they need.