All The Ellen Pao-Kleiner Perkins Trial's Painfully Sexist Allegations So Far
This week, the the bizarre and sure to be bruising Silicon Valley sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit brought by former employee Ellen Pao against venture capital giant Kleiner Perkins finally made it to court. The details of the case, which Pao filed in 2012 while she was still working for the firm, are pretty squirmy. To sum up: Pao, who is now interim CEO of Reddit, says Kleiner Perkins failed to act on her complaints of sexual harassment that she claims went on for more than six years, and that she was not given access to company events, which in turn meant she lost out on promotions. She's seeking $16 million in damages.
Pao's attorney, Alan Exelrod told the jury, "Kleiner Perkins used Ellen Pao's many talents for six years, but when it came time to pick who would be the next generation of investing leaders at Kleiner Perkins, Kleiner only picked men," according to the Associated Press.
Kleiner Perkins counters that Pao's suit is all about money, and that she wasn't the rising star she thought she was during her tenure there. Pao didn't have the skills for the job, Kleiner's attorney Lynne Hermle argued, according to USA Today, and that's why she was not promoted when male colleagues were:
She did not have the presence, she did not have the sales skills, she was not a self-starter. She was not a zealous advocate. She wasn't in the ballpark, she wasn't even close.
In its story leading up to the opening of the trial, The New York Times detailed some of Pao's more troubling allegations: In addition to allegedly being pressured into having an affair with a married partner, another partner gave her a book of poetry with sexually explicit drawings, according to Pao, and told her women couldn't succeed at Kleiner Perkins because they were "quiet." Pao and other women were allegedly not invited to a key dinner because "women kill the buzz."
On the opening day, Pao seemed to have a small measure of vindication when former partner Tracy Vassallo testified about some odd behavior by the same partner with whom Pao claims she had an affair, Ajit Nazre. According to Re/Code, Vassallo testified that Nazre made repeated advances towards her, the most explicit of which apparently came when the two were on a business trip to New York together. Nazre allegedly knocked at her door, and asked to come in, wearing only a bathrobe and slippers. She says she had to push him out of the room. After Kleiner Perkins hired an outside investigator, Nazre was fired.
Next up was the testimony of Chi-Hua Chien, the partner who Pao claimed had said "women kill the buzz." Emails presented in court showed instances of him excluding women from key events, but he countered that she was "cherry picking" negative details, and was constantly complaining.
Chien being promoted when Pao was not was further evidence of discrimination, her attorney tried to demonstrate. But Chien dismissed the claims of discrimination in his testimony. Kleiner Perkins was not biased against women, he said, because "it would be a terrible, terrible decision to make a decision based on anything other than potential profit for the firm," he testified, according to Re/Code.
Unless the two sides come to an agreement, the testimony is expected to continue the rest of this week, and is likely to divulge more information that both sides would prefer not be aired in open court. Still not addressed is the key reason that Kleiner Perkins says Pao filed the lawsuit: Her husband's alleged financial problems. The San Jose Mercury News reported that Pao's husband, Buddy Fletcher, has been involved in several discrimination lawsuits himself, as the plaintiff.