After two full days of deliberation following an almost month-long trial, a jury on Friday afternoon (March 27) found in favor of venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers in a lawsuit alleging gender discrimination brought by Ellen Pao, a former junior partner.
The jury, composed of six men and six women, found that Ms. Pao's gender was not a substantial factor in the firm's decision to deny her a promotion to senior partner. They voted 9-3 that Kleiner Perkins had not demonstrated gender bias with regard to her advancement; did not fire or fail to promote her in retaliation for the complaint; and had taken steps to prevent gender discrimination against her.
Ms. Pao filed the lawsuit in 2012. After earning both a law degree and an MBA from Harvard, as well as a degree in electrical engineering from Princeton, she joined Kleiner Perkins in 2005.
The suit alleged 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.
She asked for $16 million in compensatory damages as well as an unspecified amount of punitive damages.
The case may not be over, as Ms. Pao and her attorneys have the right to appeal the verdict. She is currently working as interim CEO of Reddit.
The lawsuit detailed what Ms. Pao described as specific instances of gender exclusion, including a company ski trip in January 2012 and several dinners to which reportedly only male employees were invited.
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."
Ms. Pao was fired from the firm about six months after filing the lawsuit.
In filings made before the trial started as well as arguments made in court, attorney Lynne Hermle, representing the venture capital firm, argued that Ms. Pao was not promoted because she lacked the interpersonal skills and ability to work as a team member.
During the trial, both sides offered testimony that could have swayed jurors in either direction: For example, Ms. Pao alleged that she was pressured into an affair with a married colleague, while the defense offered evidence of a consensual relationship.
The man, Ajit Nazre, was later fired in 2012 after the company investigated another woman's complaint that he had sexually harassed her. Ms. Pao initially intervened to prevent his firing, according to court testimony, while Kleiner Perkins allowed Mr. Nazre to anonymously have input into her performance reviews after the affair ended on a sour note, according to witness testimony reported by the Wall Street Journal. Mr. Nazre did not appear during the trial.
Courtroom watchers said the verdict is less important than the fact that the trial raised gender issues in Silicon Valley to a high profile, hopefully prompting change in the venture capital arena.
Ms. Pao exited the courtroom and said she appreciated the support that everyone had expressed during the trial.
"I have told my story and thousands of people have heard it. If I've helped to level the playing field for women and minorities, then the battle was worth it," she said.
Neither attorney Alan Exelrod, who led Ms. Pao's case, nor Lynne Hermle, the chief representative for Kleiner Perkins, was immediately available for comment.
Bay City News Service contributed to this report.