SAN FRANCISCO – A discrimination lawsuit that put a spotlight on gender balance and working conditions for women at Silicon Valley firms ended with a jury rejecting the female plaintiff's claims.
Continue Reading Below
The jury of six men and six women determined Friday venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers did not discriminate against Ellen Pao because she was a women and did not retaliate against her by failing to promote her and firing her after she filed a sex discrimination complaint.
"Kleiner Perkins appears to have done an effective job convincing the jury it didn't have a woman problem, that it didn't promote Mrs. Pao because of her performance and not something that was based on stereotyping," said Jason Knott, a Washington, D.C., attorney who has worked on employment cases and closely watched the trial.
The jury in San Francisco reached the verdict after three days of deliberations and a five-week trial that debated gender imbalance at Silicon Valley technology and venture capital firms.
A study introduced as evidence during the trial showed that women are grossly underrepresented as partners in the venture capital sector. Industry consultants said the case had sparked some technology and venture companies to re-examine their cultures and practices for potential gender bias even before the verdict.
Pao waved quickly to the jury as she left the courtroom after the verdict was announced.
Continue Reading Below
"I have told my story and thousands of people have heard it. If I helped to level the playing field for women and minorities in venture capital, then the battle was worth it," she said, adding that she will return to her career, family and friends.
The verdict came after a judge ordered the panel to resume deliberations when a discrepancy was found in the initial vote count.
Jurors heard conflicting portraits of Pao during closing arguments. Her attorneys said she was an accomplished junior partner who was passed over for a promotion and fired because the firm used different standards to judge men and women.
Kleiner Perkins' attorney, Lynne Hermle, countered that Pao failed as an investor at the company and sued to get a big payout as she was being shown the door.
"It never occurred to me for a second that a careful and attentive jury like this would find either discrimination or retaliation and I'm glad to have been proven right about that," Hermle said.
Juror Steve Sammut said jurors thought Pao was driven.
"We felt that she was somebody who probably wouldn't take no for an answer and was pushing for her agenda," Sammut said.
In making their case during the five-week trial, Pao's attorneys said she was excluded from an all-male dinner at the home of Vice President Al Gore; received a book of erotic poetry from a partner; was asked to take notes like a secretary at a meeting; and subjected to talk about pornography aboard a private plane.
Juror Marshalette Ramsey, 41, said she believed Kleiner Perkins had discriminated against Pao because male employees at the firm who faced criticism as she did about their personalities advanced while Pao didn't. Kleiner Perkins officials said Pao was a chronic complainer who twisted facts and circumstances in her lawsuit and had a history of conflicts with colleagues that contributed to the decision to let her go.
Ramsey said the case also showed the importance of trying to make every workplace "neutral."
"We're all tasked to a certain standard of conduct, and in a case like this it brings to the forefront that something seemingly innocent isn't really innocent" in the workplace, said Ramsey, a manager for the Bay Area Rapid Transit system. "I think Ellen Pao, if nothing else, has opened all of our eyes to that."
During her testimony, Pao told jurors that her lawsuit was intended in part to create equal opportunities for women in the venture capital sector.
Hermle, however, accused Pao of having less altrusitic motives.
"The complaints of Ellen Pao were made for only one purpose: a huge payout for team Ellen," Hermle said in her closing argument.