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Kleiner Firm Cleared in Silicon Valley Gender Bias Case

  • Reuters

FILE - Ellen Pao told reporters after losing her gender bias lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers that people around the world had reached out to her with stories similar to her own.

FILE - Ellen Pao told reporters after losing her gender bias lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers that people around the world had reached out to her with stories similar to her own.

A California jury on Friday cleared venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers of gender discrimination claims brought against it by a former female partner.

After further deliberation, the jury also cleared Kleiner on a claim that the firm had retaliated against the former partner, Ellen Pao, by terminating her employment after she sued in 2012.

Despite days of courtroom drama about affairs, books of erotic poetry and office flirting, juror Steve Sammut, who mostly voted for Kleiner, said the decision came down to Pao's effectiveness at her job.

"We were focused on the performance,'' he said.

The verdict dashed Pao's hopes for personal vindication, but the trial revealed embarrassing disclosures about how Pao and other women were treated at Kleiner, and about Silicon Valley's corporate culture and its lack of diversity.

In a statement, Kleiner thanked the jury and said it was committed to supporting women in venture capital and technology. "There is no question gender diversity in the workplace is an important issue,'' it said.

Supporters of Pao sent Twitter messages tagged #ThankYouEllenPao immediately after the final verdict. Pao shone a light on the "toxic culture'' of Silicon Valley and "empowered other women in tech,'' some tweets said.

After the jury was dismissed, Pao told reporters in the courthouse that people around the world had reached out to her and told her that they had stories similar to her own.

"If I've helped to level the playing field for women and minorities in venture capital, then the battle was worth it,'' she said.

The California Superior Court case laid bare the personnel matters of the firm that backed Google Inc. and Amazon.com Inc., with Pao's attorneys painting Kleiner as a quarrelsome pressure cooker where a former male partner used business trips as opportunities to make advances to female colleagues.

Pao, now interim chief executive at social-news service Reddit, claimed her standing at Kleiner crumbled after she ended a brief affair with partner Ajit Nazre. Her career deteriorated after he and Kleiner started retaliating against her, amid a climate that was overall unfriendly toward women, her lawyers argued.

The firm disputed those charges, presenting evidence that Kleiner went out of its way to hire women.

Some witnesses, including Pao's onetime mentor John Doerr, have testified that Pao's lack of advancement stemmed from subpar performance, not discrimination or retaliation.

But Pao's attorneys argued she laid the groundwork for the firm's highly successful investment in RPX, the patent company, and suggesting an investment in Twitter, an idea more senior partners rejected at the time.

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