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KPCB issues formal response to sexual harassment suit

Firm denies that any discrimination took place; says no allegations were made until this year

Financial trends and news by Steven Loeb
June 13, 2012 | Comments
Short URL: http://vator.tv/n/2788

Last month, Silicon Valley VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers was sued for sexual harassment by firm partner Ellen Pao.

In her complaint, Pao alleged rampant sexual harassment and systematic gender discrimination over a period of seven years.

Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers responded to Pao’s allegations on Wednesday, and adamantly denied all of her claims, responding to each one them with its own version of what happened.

"KPCB generally denies each and every material allegation of the Complaint and further denies that Plaintiff has been damaged in the manner alleged, or in any manner or amount. KPCB vigorously denies that it discriminated against Plaintiff, retaliated against Plaintiff after she complained about harassment or discrimination, or that it violated its obligation to take reasonable steps to prevent discrimination from occurring,” the firm wrote in its response.

In her complaint, Pao accused junior partner Ajit Nazre of making repeated sexual advances, then making her life difficult when she rejected him. She said she “eventually succumbed” to Nazre’s advances, but quickly put an end to the relationship, causing Nazre to relatiate against her. Pao says she repeatedly brought Nazre’s behavior to the attention of both human resources and her fellow partners, but nothing was done to stop it.

KPCB says that Pao did not come to them with these allegations at any point prior to late 2011/early 2012, and by which point she “was already represented by legal counsel and in the process of asserting claims against KPCB.”

Once the allegations were brought to their attention, KPCB writes, the firm conducted its own investigation and “concluded that Plaintiff’s discrimination and retaliation complaints were without merit.”

In her complaint, Pao had accused fellow partner Ray Lane of trying to pressure her into dropping the suit and marrying Nazre instead, something KPCB not only denies, but has a completely different version of in their response.

Not only does the firm say that Lane, and the other partners, supported her decision to end her relationship with Nazre, and that Pao “thanked Lane for his help and understanding” and that all they’d heard of the incident until Pao’s complaints was that she had an “expression of gratitude and desire to move on.”

Pao has also accused senior partner Randy Komisar of harassment as well. She alleges that he came into her office and gave her a book entitled “The Book of Longing,” which featured sexually explicit drawings and poems.  Pao says that Komisar then asked her out to dinner and mentioned that his wife would be out of town.

KPCB says that Komisar, who they point out is a “practicing Buddhist,” actually gave her the book, written by musician Leonard Cohen, on behalf of his wife. They say that the book was never mentioned by Pao in the years after receiving it, nor during the independent investigation over her accusations.

Pao not only says that she complained about the unprofessional behavior, but that she was punished for it through her performance reviews. She says she was often reviewed, either by people who she was complaining about, or people she had not worked with, in order to prevent her from being promoted or earning a raise.

The firm denies that they engaged such practices, pointing to specific instances in her performance reviews from 2009, 2010 and 2011, where she received positive and negative feedback, and was given advice on how to further advance, such as speaking up more, taking more of a leadership position and presenting more ideas.

“Based solely and repeated and widespread performance concerns, Plaintiff did not earn the necessary support of her male and female partners for promotion,” the response says.

KPCB also addressed Pao’s accusation that the firm exhibited widespread gender discrimination, claiming that, on several occasions, male partners had “no girls allowed” business meetings with high profile companies.  Partner Chi-Hua Chien reportedly held not one, but two dinner events for select KPCB partners and executives from leading KPCB-funded companies where only male partners were invited. 

In actuality, KPCB says, both male and female employees attended both of those dinners.

In their response, the firm says that any damages that Pao suffered were because of her own conduct.

“Any failure by Plaintiff to advance was caused by her own performance failings, and any emotional distress suffered by Plaintiff likely occurred as the result of turmoil in her personal life,” the response says.

In any event, KPCB says that Pao has no right to sue them, as she had signed both non-disparagement and arbitration agreements, which they say has put her in breach of her contract with the firm.

You can read the entire response below:

(Image source: kpcb.com)


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