A couple of Microsoft employees who allege they were forced to view “horrific images” including bestiality, child pornography, and murder as part of their work are suing the company.
Courthouse News reports that Greg Blauert and Henry Soto, former customer service employees delegated to Microsoft’s online safety program, claim they developed post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the work.
The two men were in charge of deciding whether content should be taken off or reported to police, assert that they were never notified about the hazardous psychological impacts of the job, and were not permitted to refuse the assignment.
The pair is suing Microsoft in a Washington court for disability discrimination, negligence, and infringements of the Consumer Protection Act.
According to Courthouse News, the complaint said, “Plaintiffs Henry Soto and Greg Blauert were not warned about the likely dangerous impact of reviewing the depictions nor were they warned they may become so concerned with the welfare of the children, they would not appreciate the harm the toxic images would cause them and their families.”
They claim that rather than offering trained therapists for the team, Microsoft established a “wellness program” counseling employees distressed by images to take “walks and smoking breaks” and redirect thoughts by playing video games.
Soto said he was unwillingly transferred to the freshly formed safety team in 2008 and under Microsoft policy had to stay in the position for one-and-a-half years before he could apply for a transfer.
The complaint said: “The new Online Safety team had just been created and Mr. Soto was one of the initial employees with the team and had limited information about the position.”
“He did not understand the level of activity in the following areas: assisting law enforcement efforts to break up significant crime rings, the mob, the triad, and other violent groups, reviewing photos and video requiring him to witness horrible brutality, murder, indescribable sexual assaults, videos of humans dying and, in general, videos and photographs designed to entertain the most twisted and sick-minded people in the world.”
Soto said he started having disturbing hallucinations and nightmares after watching a footage of a girl being abused and killed. He was reassigned to a new position in 2014, but continued to suffer from PTSD and obtained medical leave in 2015. Blauert started working on the team in 2011, and experienced a breakdown in 2013 and professes to suffer from “acute and debilitating PTSD”.
In a statement to Courthouse News, Microsoft said: “Microsoft applies industry-leading, cutting-edge technology to help detect and classify illegal images of child abuse and exploitation that are shared by users on Microsoft services.
“Once verified by a specially trained employee, the company removes the image, reports it to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and bans the users who shared the images from our services. We have put in place robust wellness programs to ensure the employees who handle this material have the resources and support they need.”