Ellen Pao’s long-strange-trip included filing a historic gender discrimination lawsuit against former employer Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, losing at trial, getting fired as CEO of Reddit, and now dropping her appeal and paying KPCB $276,000 in legal fees.
Pao had mobilized progressives across the globe with her lawsuit filed against the most prestigious Silicon Valley venture capitalist. Complaining that she as a female had been professionally discriminated against and subject to vicious innuendo, Pao dragged KPCB through the mud for several years until her trial in March with the press assuming it was a slam-dunk that the former junior partner would win a big chunk of her demand for $16 million to compensate for sexual discrimination and up to $144 million for punitive damages.
Pao’s being hired after leaving KPCB as interim CEO at the booming Reddit social networking website, which progressives call the front page of the Internet, seemed to enhance Pao’s “rep” before the trial.
But in the five-week-long courtroom slug-fest in ultra-liberal San Francisco, defense attorneys from Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher painted Pao as a horrible coworker who was actually paid more than male associates.
In a shockingly short deliberation for a highly-visible gender discrimination lawsuit, a jury of six women and six men ruled against Ellen Pao on all four of her claims of gender discrimination and retaliation against Kleiner Perkins. Jurors interviewed later seemed to find that Pao was arrogant to co-workers and her personality was toxic.
Despite that horrifically bad publicity from the trail, Pao kept her job at Reddit. But over the next few months, she started an initiative to muzzle harassing comments by “trolls” in Reddit’s decentralized forums. Many readers screamed that the “evil” Pao was trying to kill the site’s viral reputation for free speech and no-holds-barred debate.
After Pao seemed to retaliate from the criticism by firing Victoria Taylor, Reddit’s director of communications and the moderator of the site’s hugely successful “Ask Me Anything” Q&A sessions, users revolted by shutting down many of the site’s biggest “subreddits” and 143,000 Reddit members signed a petition to dump Pao.
When Pao stepped down as the interim CEO of Reddit, she said she would continue to speak out on issues of gender disparity, but that she was spending time with her family and also returning to investing and working with entrepreneurs. In a typical statement she said, “I have been reengaging with friends and colleagues,” then added. “It’s over.”
Pao said she would pay Kleiner Perkins close to $276,000 in legal fees awarded to Kleiner Perkins to end the lawsuit. But re/code had reported that Kleiner had previously said it would waive those fees if she dropped the appeal, so it is not clear if Pao was still responsible for paying other costs that include witness fees.
She told re/code:
“I think I brought these important issues to the forefront of the conversation, but the online aggression has had a toll on me and my family,” she said. “That so many people heard what I had to say, against all that was brought to bear against me, is a testament to the depth of the problem related to women and tech” She added, “I have gone as far as I can go and cannot commit the resources and time that would be needed to continue.”