Having kept her Reddit position despite losing America’s highest profile sexual discrimination lawsuits against what she called Silicon Valley’s “boy’s club,” Pao was forced out for firing a popular female employee.
When the Ellen Pao five-week-long and very salacious San Francisco trial against the elite venture capital firm of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers for alleged sexual discrimination went to the jury on March 26, most observers assumed 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 salacious lawsuit filed in 2012 had been a lightning rod for Jesse Jackson and other diversity camp followers to disparage the “backward culture” of Silicon Valley. Hoping to unmask Silicon Valley’s supposedly greedy venture capitalists victimizing the reserved little Asian woman seemed like a done deal in a case that was supposed to be about the larger implications regarding the future of women and minorities in the tech field; which is dominated by a ratio of 70 percent white and Asian men, but only 30 percent women.
After leaving Kleiner, her hiring by the booming Reddit social networking website, which progressives call the front page of the Internet, enhanced Pao’s “rep.” Reddit’s clever welcome message stated, “A long-time lurker, Ellen comes to us by way of a long, adventurous career spanning venture capital.” In late 2014 she became CEO.
But in a shockingly short deliberation for a highly-visible gender discrimination lawsuit, a San Francisco 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 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 Pao was trying to kill the site’s viral reputation for free speech and no-holds-barred debate.
But Reddit readers went into full rebellion a week ago when Pao fired Victoria Taylor, the director of communications for Reddit and the moderator of the site’s “Ask Me Anything” Q&A sessions. Users claimed that Pao’s censorship made it impossible to set up and run the so-called AMA sessions without her, according to the Verge.
Unpaid volunteer moderators, in protest against Taylor’s dismissal and Reddit’s lack of transparency, shut down many of the site’s biggest “subreddits” on a variety of popular topics from gaming, movies, sex and science. In addition, 143,000 Reddit members signed a petition over the next three days that called for Reddit to dump Pao as interim CEO. In response, Pao and co-founder Alexis Ohanian issued a half-hearted apology that Reddit should have shared more information about Taylor’s departure.
But readers went ballistic when the company issued a statement to Bloomberg Business that “Ellen has the full support of the team.” With the rebellion picking up steam and the petition signatures passing 200,000, the company issued a statement on Friday afternoon that Pao was leaving and co-founder Steve Huffman would return as CEO.
Pao told media outlets that she was not fired, calling her departure a mutual decision because she disagreed with the Reddit Board about the site’s growth potential. But in a sarcastic parting shot at her critics, Pao told the Wall Street Journal that she won’t miss the constant criticism of her within Reddit’s user community, which dogged her throughout her unsuccessful sexual discrimination lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins and continued to grow over her involvement in the site.