A trial that is underway in San Francisco is shining a light on Silicon Valley’s hiring practices and gender discrimination. Ellen Pao, a former junior partner at Kleiner Perkins, a venture capitalist firm, sued Kleiner Perkins for sex discrimination. Pao worked for Kleiner Perkins from 2005 to 2012. Pao went on to become interim CEO of Reddit.
In her lawsuit, Pao alleges that she was prevented from becoming a senior partner at Kleiner Perkins because she was a woman. She also alleges that during her seven years at the firm, she was excluded from partner meetings and investment opportunities because she was a woman. She also claims that she was pressured into a non-consensual relationship with another partner, which later led to retaliation against her.
Pao alleges that Kleiner Perkins had ski trips that excluded women and that only men were invited to an exclusive dinner at Al Gore’s apartment. Pao claims that the company promoted men who received performance reviews similar to hers, while she was not, because she is a woman.
A famed venture capitalist with Kleiner Perkins took the stand at trial and alleged that he strives to include woman on boards, and hire them into engineering roles at his tech companies. However, evidence introduced at trial showed that when he was speaking to a conference of venture capitalists in 2008, he said that the founders of major internet companies all seem to be white male nerds who dropped out of Harvard or Stanford and have no social life, so he chose to invest in companies with similar profiles.
The venture capitalist also claimed that it’s very rare for any junior partners to be raised to senior partners. He says that in 30 years, it’s only happened five times. Therefore, he says that it wasn’t sexism that caused Pao not to be promoted, it just rarely happened in the company. In her lawsuit, Pao also claims that she was asked to do inappropriate jobs, considering her level of education (electrical engineering degree from Princeton and law and MBA degrees from Harvard). The venture capitalist said that the needs of the company were paramount, and everyone was expected to pitch in. He pointed to a senior partner who was willing to get gas, carry papers, and even took the shirt off his back and gave it to a boss for a photo shoot. He argued that Pao was not given demeaning tasks because she was a woman – she was simply expected to pitch in like everyone else.
This trial has caught the attention of Silicon Valley because it exposes the atmosphere at one of the most successful venture capital firms in the country. Many women in the high-tech field have complained about the “boy’s club” culture that exists in the high-tech industry. Other high-tech companies have also been accused of sexism.
Under federal and state law, discrimination based on sex is illegal. Sexual harassment is illegal as well. If an employee experiences discrimination because of her gender, she can sue for lost wages, lost benefits, emotional distress, and other damages. In order to prevail, you must be able to show that you were discriminated against solely because of your gender.
If you believe you have been discriminated against or harassed at work because of your sex, call Micha Star Liberty, Oakland sexual discrimination attorney, at 510-645-1000 or 415-896-1000. She works with clients throughout the Oakland – San Francisco area, including Hayward, Tracy, Fairfield, San Jose, and Berkeley who have faced employment issues such as sexual discrimination or harassment. Call her today to schedule your free consultation if you feel that you have been illegally discriminated against or harassed.