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April 06, 2015 Practice Points

Ellen Pao Loses Sex Discrimination Suit Against Kleiner Perkins

By Joshua Sato

On March 27, 2015, a jury ruled in favor of the defendant, prominent Silicon Valley venure capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield, and Byers, on all four counts in a gender discrimination suit brought by Ellen Pao. Pao was a former junior partner at Kleiner Perkins and accused the firm of fostering an atmosphere of subtle but pervasive sexism that awarded male employees promotions and opportunities over equally or more qualified women. Pao alleged that she was fired in 2012 after complaining about sexist treatment she had experienced.

During the trial, Pao's attorneys claimed that she was not invited to an all-male dinner with Vice President Al Gore, was asked to take notes for a meeting as though she were a secretary, and was present for discussion about pornography. In addition, Pao claimed that she was coerced into having an affair with a married coworker named Ajit Nazre and suffered retribution after she ended the relationship.

Attorneys for Kleiner Perkins countered Pao's arguments by claiming that she did not succeed due to lacking "the ability to lead others, build consensus and be a team player, which is crucial to a successful career as a venture capital senior investing partner." Kleiner Perkins also claimed that Pao and Nazre's affair was entirely consensual.

While Pao's suit ended with defeat on all four counts, commentators posit that the suit nonetheless drew attention to the rampant gender discrimination in Silicon Valley. As one of the most powerful and influential venture capital firms in Silicon Valley, Kleiner Perkins will be under intense scrutiny for future allegations of gender discrimination. Similar lawsuits are currently underway against Facebook and Twitter.

Keywords: minority trial, litigation, sex discrimination, litigation, trial, venture capital, Ellen Pao

Joshua Sato is with Milbank Tweed in New York, New York.

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