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Accuser Takes Stand in Silicon Valley Bias Case

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - The woman suing Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers for $16 million because the firm allegedly discriminated against her and other women almost didn't take the job she's suing over.

In testimony today, Ellen Pao revealed that she initially turned down an offer from the famous firm because "the role seemed too junior."

Pao, who joined Kleiner Perkins in 2005, took the stand today in the third week of the closely watched gender bias trial. The case has garnered nationwide attention partly because of the tech industry's reputation for being a boys' club dominated by white and Asian men.

Pao's former supervisor, John Doerr, is a highly successful venture capitalist who led investments into companies like Google and Amazon.

On the stand, Pao said she ultimately took the job at Kleiner Perkins because Doerr agreed to change the associate partner role to a more senior position that would allow her more opportunities, like being part of his investments.

Her starting salary was $220,000, according to court documents.

Pao's attorney, Therese Lawless, aimed to spotlight her client's achievements and qualifications for the position. Pao alleges that she was not promoted above junior partner even though a man she reported to the company for unwanted sexual advances was.

She filed her lawsuit five months before being fired in October 2012. Kleiner Perkins says she was not performing her job well.

Pao earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering at Princeton and went on to complete law school and business school at Harvard. After leaving business school, Pao worked at a variety of tech companies before joining Kleiner Perkins.

But by 2007, Pao said she was unhappy with the culture at the firm. She pointed to a lack of respect for entrepreneurs and said her co-workers weren't being honest with each other and that there was "a lot of political backdoor behavior."

She was ready to quit, but didn't because she believed Doerr, whom she thought of as a father figure according to court documents, would try to change the firm for the better.

On the stand, Pao also talked about her co-worker Ajit Nazre, with whom she had an on-and-off relationship for five or six months. She claimed Nazre hit on her relentlessly, but that she resisted his advances until he told her that his wife left him.

Pao said when she learned Nazre's wife hadn't actually left, she ended the relationship "immediately and permanently."

"I was furious," she testified.

Nazre allegedly then made Pao's work life difficult by cutting her out of important business emails and meetings. She reported Nazre several months later in 2007, after learning that other employees had allegedly complained about harassment.

Pao testified that she wanted Kleiner Perkins to improve HR policies, but that she did not want Nazre fired. Nazre was eventually fired in 2011 following an investigation into another woman's sexual harassment claims.

Before Pao took the stand on Monday, another witness - investigator Stephen Hirschfeld, who was hired by Kleiner Perkins in 2011 to investigate reports of sexual harassment - gave a different interpretation of Pao's allegations.

"She was not truthful about the relationship with Ajit Nazre," Hirschfeld testified. "She told me it was not consensual, and I don't believe that's true."

When asked by San Francisco Superior Court Judge Harold Kahn whether the Pao's words could just be semantics, Hirschfeld replied, "I don't know whether she was lying to me and saying it wasn't consensual when it was, or whether ultimately in her heart what she really felt was manipulated. I'll never know that."

Arvin Temkar can be reached by email at [email protected].

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