Almanac

News - July 3, 2013

Ellen Pao sex discrimination lawsuit stays in open court

• Appeals court rules against Kleiner Perkins bid for arbitration.

by Sandy Brundage

Menlo Park venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers lost its bid to force a former employee who filed a sex discrimination lawsuit into confidential arbitration, thanks to an appeals court decision on June 26.

Ellen Pao filed the lawsuit in 2012 after working at Kleiner Perkins for seven years. The suit alleges that the firm discriminates against women for promotions and compensation, and retaliated against her after she complained about harassment by a peer who allegedly pressured her into a brief sexual relationship.

The lawsuit details specific instances of gender exclusion, including a company ski trip in January 2012 and several dinners to which only male employees were invited. The host of one event reportedly said that inviting women would "kill the buzz."

Kleiner Perkins refuted the allegations, saying in its filed response that Ms. Pao has "twisted facts and events in an attempt to create legal claims where none exist." The filing references an independent investigator who interviewed 17 partners, including every female partner at the time, "provided Plaintiff multiple opportunities to provide information and documents, and, after a thorough review, concluded the Plaintiff's discrimination and retaliation complaints were without merit."

Ms. Pao was fired from the firm about six months after filing the lawsuit. Kleiner Perkins cited reviews that questioned her initiative, interpersonal skills and ability to work as a team member. "Based solely on repeated and widespread performance concerns" raised by colleagues inside and outside the company, "Plaintiff did not earn the necessary support of her male and female partners for promotion."

In its appeal regarding arbitration, Kleiner Perkins argued in part that public revelations of poor performance during a trial would embarrass her.

Neither attorney Alan Exelrod, who represents Ms. Pao, nor Lynne Hermle, who represents the venture capital firm, was available for comment on the appeals court decision. Ms. Pao has been quoted in the media as saying she looks forward to her day in court.

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