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Holly Culhane

HOLLY CULHANE: Victory in discrimination trial no cause to celebrate

BY HOLLY CULHANE For The Californian
Monday, Apr 20 2015 12:00 PM

The nearly month-long drama that unfolded in a San Francisco courtroom captivated Silicon Valley's attention and exposed -- for all the world to see -- the dark underbelly of one of California's most prestigious industries. And while the defendant company won the legal battle, there is little cause to do a victory dance at the goal post.

The case tarnished the firm's reputation, showing how even some powerful companies still "don't get it" when it comes to workplace diversity and equity.

In 2005, Ellen Pao, a Harvard Business School graduate, was hired by Kleiner Perkins Canfield & Byers, a Menlo Park venture capital firm that provides financing for such giants as Google and Amazon. Pao was first hired as the chief of staff for John Doerr, one of the firm's best known senior partners. She later became an investor.

But Pao's progress in the firm stalled. In a lawsuit she filed in 2012, Pao claimed Kleiner Perkins discriminated against her because of her gender; that the firm retaliated against her because she complained about discrimination; that the firm did not take steps to prevent discrimination; and that it fired her for filing a lawsuit against the firm. Pao asked for $16 million in compensatory damages and punitive damages.

After deliberating for three days, jurors on March 27 rejected Pao's claims, accepting Kleiner Perkins' contention that Pao was passed over and fired because of poor performance. But the trial testimony was filled with stories of an office affair; a partner showing up in a female colleague's hotel room wearing a bathrobe; and discussions of pornography and erotic poetry.

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