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Monday, June 24, 2024 | Back issues
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Silicon Valley Firm Prevails in Gender Bias Suit

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A jury took just over two days to find a Silicon Valley venture capital firm not liable for gender discrimination of and retaliation against its former junior partner on Friday.

Ellen Pao sued venerated venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers in 2012, claiming she had been denied a promotion and excluded from business opportunities because she is a woman. The firm fired her five months after she filed the lawsuit.

Kleiner Perkins has maintained it fired Pao for poor performance and the jury agreed, finding for the firm on all of Pao's claims.

But there was a hiccup when the jury first announced it had reached the verdict Friday afternoon.

Jurors initially voted 8-4 in favor of Kleiner Perkins on this question: "Were Ms. Pao's conversations in December 2011 and/or her Jan. 4, 2012 memorandum and/or her filing this lawsuit a substantial motivating reason for Kleiner Perkins' decision to terminate Ms. Pao's employment?"

That vote didn't satisfy Superior Court Judge Harold Kahn, who ordered the jury to resume deliberations without signing off on their verdict.

After two additional hours of deliberations, the jury reached the majority necessary to satisfy the requirement - voting 9-3 in Kleiner Perkins' favor on Pao's retaliation claim.

The suit garnered considerable attention nationally due to the tech industry's reputation of being dominated by men. The term "boy's club" has been repeatedly used both in the courtroom and in the media, and there's been a lot of speculation as to how the case will shape diversity in the field.

Also, Kleiner Perkins is a premiere Silicon Valley firm, famous for backing tech giants like Netscape, Google and Twitter.

Pao had sought $16 million in back pay and future wage losses, and could have received much more after Kahn allowed her to also seek punitive damages late in the case.

After closing arguments finished on Wednesday, the jury was tasked with filling out a long and detailed verdict form.

They had to decide whether Pao's gender was a "substantial motivating reason" in Kleiner Perkins' decision not to promote her. They also had to decide whether the firm didn't promote her because she brought up her discrimination concerns with partners in conversations and in a memo.

Additionally, the jury had to answer whether the firm took "all reasonable steps" to prevent discrimination.

Throughout the trial, attorneys battled to plant differing narratives of Pao in the jury's minds. Pao's attorneys portrayed her as a hardworking woman constantly hitting walls of discrimination, while Kleiner Perkins' attorney made her out to be egotistical and brash, unfit for her role at the firm.

Pao's descriptions of her experience at the firm included a plane ride in which male co-workers talked about porn stars; a dinner with former Vice President Al Gore that women weren't invited to because women allegedly "kill the buzz;" and a married male co-worker's gift of a sexually explicit book on Valentine's Day.

During trial, some of the men named in the lawsuit took the stand and denied wrongdoing. And female employees shared a different perspective of their time at Kleiner Perkins.

Mary Meeker, a senior partner at the firm, testified that the firm is "the best place to be a woman in the business."

After the verdict, Pao - who worked for Kleiner Perkins from 2005 to 2012 and is now the interim CEO at Reddit - gave a brief statement to a room full of reporters.

"If I've helped level the playing field for women and minorities in venture capitalism then the battle was worth it," she said.

Kleiner Perkins' attorney Lynne Hermle, of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, also commented: "It's been an extraordinary honor and privilege representing Kleiner Perkins in this case."

Contact Arvin Temkar at [email protected].

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