Microsoft sued over browser miscue that led to $731 million EU fine

SEATTLE Fri Apr 11, 2014 6:32pm EDT

Bill Gates poses after an interview with Reuters in Singapore April 6, 2014. REUTERS/Edgar Su

Bill Gates poses after an interview with Reuters in Singapore April 6, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Edgar Su

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp's board faces a lawsuit over the way it handled an error with its Internet Explorer browser that ended up costing the company a record-breaking $731 million fine by European antitrust regulators.

The lawsuit, brought by shareholder Kim Barovic in federal court in Seattle on Friday, charges that directors and executives, including founder Bill Gates and former Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer, failed to manage the company properly and that the board's investigation was insufficient into how the miscue occurred.

The legal action is the first to emerge from a humiliating episode for Microsoft, which the software company has never fully explained and has accounted for only as a "technical error."

In March last year, the European Union levied its largest ever antitrust fine against Microsoft for breaking a legally binding commitment made in 2009 to ensure that consumers in Europe had a choice of how they access the internet, rather than defaulting to Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser.

Its investigation found that updated software issued between May 2011 and July 2012 meant that 15 million users were not given a choice. It was the first time the European Commission, the EU's antitrust authority, handed down a fine to a company for failing to meet its obligations.

In her lawsuit, Barovic says she asked Microsoft's board to fully investigate how that mistake occurred and to take action against any directors or executives that had not performed their duties. She says Microsoft replied that it found no evidence of a breach of fiduciary duty by any current or former executives or directors.

In a statement on Friday, Microsoft repeated that stance.

"Ms. Barovic asked the board to investigate her demand and bring a lawsuit against the board and company executives," said an emailed statement from Microsoft. "The board thoroughly considered her demand as she requested and found no basis for such a suit."

The problem on European computers prevented the so-called "ballot" screen from appearing. Sources close to the company have said it was connected to updated Windows 7 software.

Ballmer, who was CEO at the time, and Steven Sinofsky, then the head of the Windows unit, both had their bonuses cut in 2012 after the error came to light.

The case is Barovic v Ballmer et al in U.S. District Court, Western District of Washington, No. 14-00540

(Reporting by Bill Rigby; Editing by Grant McCool)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (5)
I seriously doubt EU customers are so inept they are unable to download Firefox or Chrome and click a button in their settings to change defaults.

Apr 11, 2014 10:45pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
tjordanchat wrote:
This is an indication of just how desperate Microsoft is. This company is going down in a big way. I calculate that is will be late 2019 rhwn Microsoft files for bankruptcy.

Apr 12, 2014 8:26am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Curmudgeon wrote:
Nah, no bankruptcy for MS. But the board’s response is completely stupid, though predictable. MS simply ignored the EU court’s decision, because they thought they could. As in any large bureaucracy, no one gets fired for costing the company close to a billion dollars, but it should have happened. Ballmer, this continues on your watch.

Apr 12, 2014 4:58pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.

California state worker Albert Jagow (L) goes over his retirement options with Calpers Retirement Program Specialist JeanAnn Kirkpatrick at the Calpers regional office in Sacramento, California October 21, 2009. Calpers, the largest U.S. public pension fund, manages retirement benefits for more than 1.6 million people, with assets comparable in value to the entire GDP of Israel. The Calpers investment portfolio had a historic drop in value, going from a peak of $250 billion in the fall of 2007 to $167 billion in March 2009, a loss of about a third during that period. It is now around $200 billion. REUTERS/Max Whittaker   (UNITED STATES) - RTXPWOZ

How to get out of debt

Financial adviser Eric Brotman offers strategies for cutting debt from student loans and elder care -- and how to avoid money woes in the first place.  Video