SAN FRANCISCO – A prominent Silicon Valley venture capitalist who helped direct early investments in Google and Amazon.com is set to take the stand Tuesday in a high-profile sex discrimination lawsuit that has sparked debate over the treatment of women in the high-tech and venture capitalist arenas.
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John Doerr is scheduled to testify in San Francisco Superior Court in a lawsuit against venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. The plaintiff, Ellen Pao, says she was denied a promotion in the male-dominated culture of Kleiner Perkins because she is a woman and was then fired in 2012 after she complained.
The firm has denied wrongdoing and says Pao, 45, was a poor performer who didn't get along with her colleagues.
Venture capital firms provide much of the startup funds for tech companies and have a reputation as being even more insular and male-dominated than the companies they help launch.
Women hold 15 to 20 percent of the technology jobs at tech giants Google, Apple, Facebook and Yahoo, according to disclosures by the companies.
The firms acknowledge needing to do more to hire female engineers but largely attribute the problem to cultural issues that discourage girls and young women from taking classes needed to pursue careers in computer coding and website design.
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Venture capital firms are even more slanted toward men. A study released last year by Babson College in Massachusetts found that women filled just 6 percent of the partner-level positions at 139 venture capital firms in 2013, down from 10 percent in 1999.
Pao initially worked as Doerr's chief of staff at Kleiner Perkins before becoming a junior partner with full-time investment duties. During opening statements, Pao's attorney, Alan Exelrod, said Pao wrote many of Doerr's letters and speeches and had received a glowing review from him when she was contacted about another job opportunity. Exelrod also said Doerr wanted to fire one of Pao's married male colleagues after learning he and Pao had had an affair, and that Doerr was aware that Pao had received from a senior partner at the firm a book of erotic poetry that she found inappropriate.
Kleiner Perkins' attorney, Lynne Hermle, said Pao did not indicate at the time she received the poetry book that she thought it was inappropriate, and the book had been purchased by the partner's wife.
Pao is seeking $16 million in damages. The firm is seeking to limit any possible damages by arguing that Pao is well-compensated in her current position as interim CEO of the popular social media company Reddit and hasn't suffered financially since leaving Kleiner after filing her lawsuit.