Ellen Pao, who is suing for $16 million in damages for sexual harassment, was cross-examined over the past two days by attorneys for her former employer, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPBC). The defense depicted Pao as belligerent, full of resentment and the kind of awful co-worker who begrudges a colleague for tending to his dying mother.
Ms. Pao, now CEO of Reddit, claims that KPBC was a frat house that forced her into an affair with a senior partner, but then denied her equal treatment to move up the corporate ladder. KPCB’s defense attorneys were able to get Pao to admit the firm responded to her complaints by hiring a private investigator who found no basis for her claims.
As a former Kleiner junior partner, Pao has claimed for the last two weeksthat she suffered from gender discrimination. She tried to paint KPCB as a “place riven by sexism and unseemly striving, and that heedlessly employed and encouraged an unsavory cad whom she had the misfortune to briefly date”, according to the New York Times.
The trial is being closely followed as the first real exposé into the rarified air of America’s most powerful venture capital firm, in the heart of male-dominated Silicon Valley. The trial got off to a brisk start when Pao’s attorney Alan Exelrod said that during Pao’s tenure, none of the managing partners at the KPCB were female. Exelrod emphasized that when Pao left in 2012 after being passed up for senior partnership and its multi-million-dollar windfall, only one woman in the firm’s 40 year history had ever been promoted from junior partner to senior partner.
Exelrod tried to put VC legend John Doerr, Pao’s direct supervisor, through the emotional ringer. But Doerr was adamant in defending the fairness of the KPCB employment climate, claiming that Kleiner Perkins was not male-dominated and that he tried to mentor Pao.
Kleiner’s attorney, Lynne C. Hermle, a top partner with the prestigious Silicon Valley firm of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, tried to cast Pao is less a victim of discrimination than a conniving victimizer that rejected management counseling to improve and should have been fired for cause earlier.
Hermle’s lengthy cross-examination was a relentless effort to discredit Pao’s case by calling her entitled, untrustworthy, cold, vindictive, and passive-aggressive to KPCB staff—-the type of employee who destroyed relationships and KPCB knew would be a bad match in a senior role.
Hermle confronted Pao with the question, “Did you ever recruit a woman to a Kleiner portfolio company’s board?”
“I don’t believe so,” was the answer.
Despite Pao’s position at Reddit, comments on the viral blog have overwhelmingly been siding with KPCB.
The jury in the case includes people like a painter, a physical therapist and a prison nurse, who are all taking notes and seem completely engaged after weeks of testimony.
The trial is expected to last at least another three weeks.