Silicon Valley gender discrimination lawsuit goes to jury

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Jury deliberations began Wednesday in a high-profile sex discrimination lawsuit that has shined a light on the gross underrepresentation of women in the technology and venture capital sectors of Silicon Valley.

The jury of six men and six women began discussing Ellen Pao's lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers after an attorney for the prestigious venture capital firm said it did not retaliate against Pao by deciding not to promote her after she filed a gender bias complaint.

The decision about a possible promotion was made before Pao filed her complaint, defense lawyer Lynne Hermle told jurors during her closing argument.

Pao's attorneys have portrayed her as the victim of a male-dominated culture at Kleiner Perkins where she was subjected to retaliation by a male colleague with whom she had an affair and to a discussion about pornography aboard a private plane.

Pao also testified about receiving a book of erotic poetry from a male partner at the company.

Jurors have heard conflicting portraits of Pao from lawyers on both sides.

They said she was either an accomplished junior partner who was passed over for a promotion because of discrimination or a failure who sued to get a big payout as she was being shown the door.

Hermle challenged Pao's claim that she sued to help women facing gender discrimination at the firm.

"The complaints of Ellen Pao were made for only one purpose: a huge payout for team Ellen," Hermle said Tuesday in the packed courtroom.

Pao's lawyer Alan Exelrod called the firm a "boys club" and referenced trial testimony and emails from prominent venture capitalist John Doerr, a partner at Kleiner Perkins, to show that Pao had been successful at the company.

"This case should be about what Ms. Pao did for Kleiner Perkins," Exelrod said.

Among her accomplishments was persuading the firm to invest in a company that later enjoyed great success and helping two companies merge, Exelrod said.

Exelrod accused Kleiner Perkins of trying to smear Pao by characterizing her relationship with the male colleague as a consensual affair gone wrong.

Pao has said the colleague hounded her into the relationship and lied about his wife leaving him.

Kleiner Perkins has said Pao was a chronic complainer who twisted facts and circumstances in her lawsuit and had a history of conflicts with colleagues that contributed to the decision to let her go.

Hermle showed jurors a slide with comments from Pao's work reviews that called her "territorial" and "not a good teammate."

To support her claim that Pao was only interested in a payout, Hermle showed jurors an email Pao sent in December 2011 — a month before she filed her complaint — in which Pao said a friend at another venture capital firm was helping her get a lawyer to negotiate.

A judge ruled over the weekend that Pao can seek punitive damages that could add millions of dollars to a possible verdict in her favor. She is seeking $16 million in lost wages and bonuses.