Ellen Pao, interim chief executive of Reddit, has lost her “landmark” gender discrimination case against venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins. Pao had alleged that the firm denied her a promotion and eventually fired her on account of her gender. But after deliberating for more than two days, a jury of six men and six women dismissed all charges brought by Pao against the firm.
This followed 21 days of witness testimony, which revealed a number of unpleasant truths about Pao’s conduct as an employee of the firm and raised further, unpleasant questions about her household and personal circumstances.
Despite the verdict, feminist activists and their sympathizers in the tech media have sought to spin Pao’s defeat as a ‘win’ for women in Silicon Valley. They argue that Pao’s case has, somehow, shone a light on gender discrimination in tech, despite the fact that the jury found that Pao experienced none. It’s a contortion of which Houdini would be proud.
Let me give these over-eager gender activists some advice: you may want to think twice before adopting Pao as your victim du jour. Because evidence given during the trial reveals that she is anything but a victim. Work emails reveal her to be a callous and resentful employee who bullied colleagues and held grudges.
Her link to Buddy Fletcher, a man with a notorious reputation for frivolous discrimination lawsuits, also raises a very large question mark over her motivation in bringing the claims against Kleiner Perkins.
It’s worth first remembering that Kleiner Perkins was an odd target for a gender discrimination lawsuit. The firm has a much better track record of hiring female talent than its rivals. Women make up 20 per cent of the firm’s members, which is double the average for Silicon Valley venture capital firms. Throughout the trial, Kleiner’s attorneys were able to draw on a number of high-profile female venture capitalists who testified that the firm was one of the most female-friendly in Silicon Valley.
Kleiner maintained that Pao was let go not because she was a woman, but because she was an unpleasant person to work with. Given the result of the case, it’s clear that the jury was persuaded by Kleiner’s arguments, but there has been little discussion in the tech media of the evidence that persuaded them. So let’s dip our toe into some of it.
Kleiner’s attorneys didn’t have to look very far for evidence of Pao’s horrible personal failings. Emails from 2009 show Pao critcising her assistant for taking time off work to help her landlord, a non-English speaker, who had been in a serious car accident. Pao’s response to the domestic crisis was as follows:
“It’s great that you want to be helpful to your landlord. It would be better for me if you could come to work on time. Let me know if you think differently, but I think your job should be your priority.”
The woman had a heart of gold, as you can see.
But admonishing her staff for helping victims of road accidents was just one aspect of Pao’s sociopathy and selfishness. Bizarrely, she kept a chart listing “resentments” that she held over her colleagues at Kleiner Perkins. She also admitted to sending negative e-mails about coworkers behind their backs, and acknowledged that she had once bullied a colleague to tears.
It’s funny how none of this information has made it into the mainstream media or the tech press. They’re all desperate to present Pao as a victim because they’ve bought into a bizarre, self-flagellating narrative about how awful women have it in the tech industry. (They don’t – and especially not at Kleiner Perkins.)
Journalists have preferred to laud Pao as a feminist underdog – a brave victim with a social conscience trying to change society for the better – despite the fact that many of her victims were other women. It’s almost as if the media were blindly supporting Pao because of her gender. Which is ironic, really, isn’t it?
Considering the flimsiness of Pao’s case, it’s incredible that she ever thought it was worth the effort in the first place. Kleiner’s attorneys had originally intended to closely interrogate Pao’s motivations, but were stopped by the presiding judge, Harold Kahn, who argued that such a line of questioning would create a “sideshow.”
He’s not wrong: Pao’s most likely motivations are quite the show. You see, Ellen Pao isn’t the only one who’s been involved in high-profile legal disputes recently. Her husband, Alphonse Fletcher, is in deep legal and financial trouble too. His asset management firm was declared bankrupt in 2012, and he is currently being sued by three Louisana public pension funds. They allege that Fletcher’s asset management defrauded them of up to $145 million, and are now seeking to recover the funds.
How much was Pao seeking from Kleiner Perkins in damages? Oh. $144 million.
As if that weren’t suspicious enough, Fletcher also has a long history of engaging in highly questionable discrimination lawsuits. His first discrimination suit, launched in 1991, was mostly a failure. Fletcher was awarded $1.26 million – a modest sum for Wall Street – with most of the damages he claimed rejected. A later arbitration panel dismissed the case entirely.
According to Boston Magazine, Fletcher was nonetheless heralded as a champion of diversity:
“The arbitration award wasn’t really a victory for Fletcher, but the story that emerged in subsequent media reports was less nuanced: On Wall Street, went the narrative, even Harvard grads get discriminated against if they happen to be black. Buddy Fletcher, though, had fought back.”
The race baiting, special pleading, minority politics and grievance-mongering don’t end there. Fletcher is currently suing the Dakota, an elite apartment block in Manhattan, for – you guessed it! – racial discrimination. The Dakota’s crime? Refusing his application to add a fourth apartment to the three that he already owned in the building. Quite what this has to do with Fletcher’s skin colour, nobody has been able to tell me.
While a judge can arguably justify excluding these details from the courtroom, it is astonishing that they were excluded from media coverage of Fletcher and Pao’s legal history. Fletcher has staged a string of frivolous discrimination lawsuits and currently faces a $144 million lawsuit, and just happens to be married to Ellen Pao, a woman who demanded almost precisely the same sum... in what we now know was also a frivolous discrimination lawsuit.
You couldn’t, as British newspaper columnists like to say, make stuff this up.
While the media may have bought into Pao’s absurd victim narrative, ordinary internet users have not. In comment sections, on social media, and even on the #ThankYouEllenPao hashtag on Twitter, it’s clear that most people aren’t buying the spin. That’s why it’s alarming that Pao remains in charge of Reddit, one of the centres of user-curated content on the web.
There have already been reports that Pao may have been using her authority to suppress discussion of Fletcher’s history on the website. This has not gone down well with Reddit’s user base, who are notoriously anti-censorship. If the comments underneath this widely-discussed posting on /r/news are any guide, Redditors are not at all pleased with their new leadership.
Ellen Pao be able to rely on the slavish support of tech columnists in hock to outdated and discredited complaints about gender equality, but she has few other admirers. It isn’t hard to see why. Her past behaviour indicates she is a deeply unpleasant person who lacks empathy and is perfectly happy to bully and undermine her colleagues when it suits her – then cry foul when she sniffs out professional or financial advantage.
Multi-millionaire corporate bullies who use equality legislation to advance their own interests? Meet the new heroes of the San Francisco progressive left.