A jury cleared venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins of three of four claims in a gender discrimination lawsuit by former employee Ellen Pao following a trial that has put a harsh light on the skewed demographics in Silicon Valley.
After three days of deliberations, the jury rejected allegations that Kleiner Perkins passed Pao over for a promotion and then fired her because of her gender. It also cleared the firm of a claim by Pao that it retaliated against her.
But the judge ordered the jury to return to deliberations over a remaining retaliation claim after belatedly realizing that they had miscounted their votes. The jury had thought it had reached the required 9-3 consensus in Kleiner’s favor when in fact it only mustered a 8-4 margin.
During more than four weeks of testimony in San Francisco Superior Court, attorneys for Pao and her former employer, blue-chip investment firm Kleiner Perkins, presented witnesses, emails and documents that portrayed widely different narratives of Pao’s career at the firm.
The trial, which has been closely followed in Silicon Valley and by the media, offered a rare and intimate window into the gender dynamics of one of Silicon Valley’s most prominent investment firms. The case has been particularly significant for the tech industry, which has long struggled with diversity.
Pao, who filed the gender discrimination lawsuit following a seven-year career at the firm, claimed that she had been overlooked for promotions in favor of men with less experience. She also described how she was excluded from all-male dinner parties, subjected to a bawdy discussions of porn and given an inappropriate gift of erotic poetry by a senior male colleague for Valentines Day.
In turn, Kleiner, an early investor in companies like Google and Genentech, aggressively defended itself in court by painting Pao as a difficult employee who lacked the qualifications necessary to be a venture capitalist. Witness after witness from the firm contradicted Pao’s accounts of misbehavior or said she twisted the facts to make insignificant events seem like serious problems.
Much of the trial’s testimony focused on Pao’s performance and whether she should have been promoted. In making her case, Pao claimed responsibility for a number of successful investments and pointed to her good relationship with companies in which Kleiner had invested. Kleiner, on the other hand, said failed to build expertise — or “thought leadership” — and constantly bickered with colleagues.
Kleiner eventually fired Pao in 2012, shortly after she had filed her lawsuit.
The trial also brought into question Kleiner’s workplace policies, or lack thereof. Pao’s side argued that the venture capital firm didn’t have a real harassment policy in place until 2012, and that the partners often got away with inappropriate behavior without being punished.