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Lawyer Chips Away at Gender Bias Claims

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Aspiring venture capitalist Ellen Pao spent two days this week defending her claims that gender discrimination at the top-tier firm where she worked stifled her career.

Sympathetic questioning from her own attorney gave way Tuesday to a detailed probe by an attorney for Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the firm where she worked for seven years, before she sued and was fired in 2012.

Lynne Hermle methodically questioned Pao about her expectations when she was hired by Kleiner Perkins, whether she acted like a person being subjected to retaliation after she ended a workplace affair, and about her treatment of subordinates, co-workers and partners at the venture capital firm.

Hermle said that when Pao was hired as the chief of staff to legendary investor John Doerr, she was promised that she might end up in an operational position, like the one she holds today as the interim CEO of Reddit, just as easily as she might become a full-fledged venture capitalist.

Using recordings from Pao's pretrial deposition, Hermle played a tape in which Pao said that when she was hired she was not seeking a venture capital position but simply looking for an interesting job.

Pao, who has an electrical engineering degree from Princeton and law and business school degrees from Harvard, said on the stand that her "goal was to be successful at whatever I did."

The two sparred over small points. When Hermle inquired about Pao's background, asking, "You worked for a Wall Street law firm called Cravath?"

Pao said, "No."

Hermle: "Who did you work for?"

Pao: "A midtown Manhattan law firm called Cravath."

A big point that Hermle worked to make was that during the period of retaliation that Pao claims followed the brief affair she had with another junior partner, Ajit Nazre, Pao tried to mend fences with Nazre, and even tried to dissuade the partners from firing him.

"I'm willing to live with some disagreement over what happened if Ajit can be professional and collegial," Pao said in an email to Kleiner Perkins managing partner Ray Lane.

Lane responded in an email that "stuff happens" and that "it's up to us to move forward, and not shoot ourselves in both feet."

Pao acknowledged on the stand that she had felt free to speak her mind to Lane and that she was not under pressure to meet Nazre for a lunch the two had in July 2007.

At that lunch, Pao said, Nazre described still having feelings for her. She said he followed "me to my car and made me uncomfortable."

Yet Hermle showed the court an email that Pao sent the next day to managing partner Ted Schlein: "Ajit seemed genuinely sorry," and she did not want John Doerr to punish him professionally, adding that "we should move forward."

"You still felt this way after the terrible lunch?" Hermle asked.

Pao responded, "Yes."

Hermle then tried to show that Pao was in regular conflict with others at Kleiner Perkins. She displayed emails in which Pao complained about co-workers and assistants who dumped work on her and did not share the credit.

One email from a partner was supportive of Pao but told her not to take internal disputes personally, calling it the "kiss of death."

A 2009 email from John Doerr, a billionaire who arranged early funding for many successful technology firms, including, Google and Twitter, described Pao's review of her own work that year as showing "resentment."

Throughout the cross-examination, Pao answered no to Hermle's repeated questions about whether Pao had ever sought information about HR policies.

Hermle is with Orrick Herrington Sutcliffe in Menlo Park.

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