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Software giant to pay $97 million

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REDMOND, Wash.--Microsoft Corp. will pay $97 million to settle an eight-year old dispute with temporary workers over whether they are entitled to benefits.

The agreement affects about 8,000 to 12,000 workers who worked for Microsoft after December 1986, according to plaintiffs law firm Bendich, Stobaugh & Strong in Seattle, which said in a statement that the settlement is the largest to date in a temporary worker class-action case. The two cases involved are Vizcaino vs. Microsoft and Hughes vs. Microsoft.

The lengthy litigation in these cases has included three decisions by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco and two refusals by the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case, the most recent in January.

"We're obviously pleased to reach an agreement that is acceptable to both sides and resolves the litigation," said a spokesman for Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft.

The $97 million settlement, which received preliminary approval in federal district court Tuesday, includes all compensation to class members, attorney fees and litigation expenses.

The amounts that workers will receive will be based on when they worked, the duration of their status as "permatemps"-or long-term temporary workers-and the total number of employees who file claims under the settlement.

The settlement agreement praises Microsoft, stating: "Since 1997, Microsoft has made important changes in its staffing and worker classification practices," including hiring 3,000 former permatemps as workers with full benefits.

The settlement "therefore does not include any provision restricting or imposing conditions on Microsoft's future policies or practices."

The Microsoft spokesman said the company is constantly re-examining its temporary staffing policies. Several years ago, he said, the company changed the way it selected temporary staffing agencies. As part of that, he said, the company began using agencies that provided better benefits to their employees. In addition, under a policy that took effect July 1, temporary workers can be hired for no more than 12 months, with a 100-day period required between Microsoft assignments. "Bottom line, we've worked hard over the years to make sure we've had the right policies in place," said the spokesman.

Microsoft employs 42,000 people worldwide, as well as between 5,000 and 6,000 temporary workers.