Ellen Pao vs. Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers sex discrimination case goes to trial

One of the highest-profile gender discrimination cases to hit Silicon Valley landed in a courtroom Tuesday morning, kicking off what is expected to be a month-long trail that will likely expose some dirty details of how women are treated in the male-dominated venture-capital industry.

The players are Ellen Pao, a venture capitalist turned tech CEO, and her former employer, powerhouse VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. The two sides — Pao with her attorneys from firm Rudy, Exelrod, Zieff & Lowe; and Kleiner’s in-house counsel Paul Vronsky alongside attorneys from Orrick — met in San Francisco Superior Court, where they were assigned to Judge Harold Kahn.

They will meet again Wednesday morning to discuss jury questions, and the judge may rule on some of the 12 motions each side has filed. Jury selection will being Thursday — a jury of 12 peers and 4 alternates are to be chosen — and opening arguments are expected next Tuesday. Pao is seeking $16 million in damages.

The trial follows years of bitter argument and failed attempts at mediation between Pao and her former employer. But in their first appearance before Judge Kahn, attorneys from both sides were unexpectedly amenable while sorting out how to proceed with the trail.

“I hate to sound so agreeable so early on,” quipped Lynne Hermle, the lead attorney for Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

Pao sued Kleiner Perkins in 2012 for gender discrimination and retaliation after what she says was years of harassment and being passed over for raises and promotions. Pao has accused a former Kleiner colleague Ajit Nazre of pressuring her into having an affair in 2006 and continuing to sexually harass her, according to her lawsuit. She reported him to management, but said the firm did nothing to prevent further harassment and instead perpetuated a culture of discrimination by paying her — and other women at the firm — less and excluding them from partner events, according to her lawsuit. Meanwhile, Nazre was promoted, according to court documents.

Kleiner has denied all allegations and said Pao has “twisted facts and events in an attempt to create legal claims where none exit,” according to court documents. The firm said it conducted an independent investigation immediately after Pao raised concerns in 2012 but “concluded (her) discrimination and retaliation complaints were without merit.”

The firm also states that Pao’s relationship with Nazre was consensual.

Pao’s current employer, Reddit, where she was named interim CEO in November, has also been dragged into the lawsuit. Kleiner’s attorneys have asked Reddit to disclose information about the company, including Pao’s financial stake in it.

The trial is expected to last about four weeks, and testimony could reveal the inner workings of one of the most powerful VC firms in the country. Pao’s former colleague, Aileen Lee, a Kleiner partner, is expected to testify about a dinner that only male partners at the firm attended at former Vice President Al Gore’s apartment, and also ask about Pao’s employment and termination.

Twenty percent of Kleiner’s partners are women; that’s about five times the national rate.

The trial also coincides with another high-profile case between a former Stanford University student and successful venture capitalist. Joseph Lonsdale, a 32-year-old VC from Los Altos, co-founder of high-profile tech firm Palantir and a former Stanford University mentor, and 24-year-old Elise Clougherty, a 2013 Stanford University graduate, have filed lawsuits against each other regarding their yearlong sexual relationship.

Clougherty’s suit says that, from 2012 to 2013, Lonsdale pressured her into having a sexual relationship and used his powerful position as both her mentor at Stanford and the wealthy founder of a tech venture fund to control and abuse her. She describes being raped and deprived of food and sleep.

Lonsdale has countered that the relationship was consensual and loving, and Clougherty suffered from emotional and mental instability. Lonsdale responded that his ex-girlfriend had spun “reprehensible and unfathomable allegations” in a scheme of revenge, according to his lawsuit. That case is also expected to go to trial.


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  • When a woman sees a chance to gain the cash she goes for it.

    Remember this rule boys. Get your girlfriends from outside the firm. Our society is in fact woman dominated whether you understand this or not. They may not be tech smart which requires deep focus but you tech bois should remember that women network better than you so the society outside that company will drop on you like a ton of bricks and squash you like a bug.

  • john smith

    what a b*tch…. she seems like a horrible person…

  • john smith

    She is only suing KPCB for the money. Reddit should fire her… shes only going to cause trouble at reddit as well.