Old News: Microsoft in Court

As America Online Inc. and Time Warner Inc. sunned themselves in the media spotlight, Microsoft generated news from - where else?

- the courtroom. But at least one legal observer thinks the media merger may hold good news for Microsoft Corp.

Microsoft lost the latest round in its seven-year class-action lawsuit with temporary workers. The contract workers claim that Microsoft treated them as full-time employees, except when it came to doling out stock options and other benefits. They want in on the lucrative bennies, and they're getting closer. In another victory for the temporary workers, the Supreme Court let stand a ruling that allows as many as 15,000 employees to participate in the class-action suit, according to the Seattle Times.

In a move that many hope indicates that Microsoft is in a settlin' mood, Gates & Co. inked an agreement to end the three-year-old antitrust suit by Caldera.

Caldera's lawyers estimated that Microsoft's anticompetitive practices cost it $1.6 billion. Microsoft, naturally, insisted that it did nothing wrong. Terms of the settlement weren't disclosed, but according to MSNBC's Brock Meeks, Microsoft said it would be taking a one-time charge of 3 cents per share at the end of the first quarter. Using the number of Microsoft's outstanding shares, Meeks came up with about $155 million.

Speaking of Microsoft legal battles, William Kovacic of George Washington University told Meeks that the AOL-Time Warner merger could affect the government antitrust case against Microsoft. Kovacic wondered how judges could order or uphold harsh remedies, should Microsoft be found guilty of antitrust violations, in an industry environment where it's impossible to predict the kinds of deals that will change the competitive landscape. "I think the AOL-Time Warner deal will induce a sense of caution" in the judges, he said.

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