Kleiner Perkins cleared of sex discrimination against Ellen Pao

The venture capital firm won on all counts in the historic Silicon Valley lawsuit

Ellen Pao
A jury found that gender was not a reason that venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers fired former employee Ellen Pao. Credit: Robert Galbraith/Reuters

A jury handed a victory to Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers on Friday in a historic lawsuit that accused one of Silicon Valley's best-known venture capital firms of sex discrimination.

The jury found against plaintiff Ellen Pao on all four counts, including the central issue of whether her gender was a substantial factor in Kleiner Perkins's decision not to promote her, according to reporters tweeting from the courtroom.

There was confusion after the initial verdict was read, because the jury of six men and six women failed to reach a sufficient majority on one of Pao's claims: that Kleiner Perkins had retaliated by terminating Pao's employment after she complained she was being discriminated against.

At least nine members of the jury had to agree on each count, and on the issue of retaliation there were only eight votes in Kleiner Perkins's favor. The judge sent the jury back to deliberate further, and after nearly two hours one juror switched from voting "yes" to a "no."

Pao made a brief statement at the courthouse after the verdict was read.

"I have told my story and thousands of people have heard it. My story is their story," she said, according to Re/code. "If I've helped to level the playing field for women and minorities in venture capital, then the battle was worth it."

"Now it's time for me to get back to my career," said Pao, who is now CEO of Reddit.

As news of the verdict spread, #ThankYouEllenPao became a popular hashtag on Twitter.

The jury took two days to reach its verdict and had to answer more than a dozen separate questions on the verdict form. There was an audible gasp in the courtroom as the first "no" was read by the court clerk, reporters in the courtroom said.

The trial has gripped technology industry watchers for the past month, fueling the debate about gender discrimination in Silicon Valley and shining an often unflattering light on one of tech's oldest and most successful venture capital companies. Kleiner Perkins had a hand in the formation of Google, Twitter, Amazon.com, Uber and dozens of other high-flying technology companies.

Pao filed her lawsuit two years ago, alleging that she was a victim of sexual discrimination at the firm and that Kleiner Perkins retaliated against her when she complained about her treatment.

A former junior partner at the company, Pao said a pervasive culture of sexism prevented her from being promoted to senior partner, a role in which she would have made far more money.

Kleiner Perkins was run "like a boys club," Pao's lawyer reportedly told the jury in closing arguments this week, and "no woman was going to challenge them."

But lawyers for Kleiner Perkins painted a very different picture, and one the jury believed. They portrayed Pao as a resentful, prickly employee who found it hard to get along with her coworkers. The real reason she wasn't promoted, the firm contended, is that she lacked the experience and the drive to be a top investor.

Pao was seeking up to $16 million in lost wages. Judge Harold Kahn of San Francisco Superior Court, where the case was heard, ruled this week that Pao would also be eligible for punitive damages if the jury concluded she was treated maliciously. That could have increased her damages by a further $144 million, USA Today reported.

James Niccolai covers data centers and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow James on Twitter at @jniccolai. James's e-mail address is james_niccolai@idg.com

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