It looks like Ellen Pao may soon have her day in court. The Supreme Court of California shot down KPCB’s effort to have the case tidily moved to arbitration, which means the suit may finally go to trial. A Kleiner Perkins spokesperson says that there are no further appeals steps, which means the case will go back to the San Francisco Superior Court to begin the discovery phase.
A lower court previously rejected Kleiner Perkins’ attempt to have the suit moved to arbitration, which the legendary venture capital firm appealed.
KPCB argues that Pao signed operating agreements for the venture funds she was involved with, which came with arbitration clauses. It’s true that some of the issues that will come up for discussion include sensitive economic and financial information regarding the funds Pao was involved with, including board appointments, investment decisions, voting rights, and so on.
Pao’s lawyer dismisses that notion by pointing out that Pao never signed an arbitration agreement with the firm itself, and she’s suing KPCB—not its funds.
Indeed, it would make life only too easy for venture capital firms if they got a free pass on workplace discrimination and sexual harassment on the grounds that hey—what happens in finance stays in finance. Yolo?
A Kleiner Perkins spokesperson said: "KPCB knows that the lawsuit is wholly without merit. We intend to vigorously defend the matter and are confident we will prevail."
The firm came to the party locked and loaded. In a statement from John Doerr last year when the allegations first came to light, he accused Ellen Pao of outright fabricating the whole story.
“It is not easy to stand by as false allegations are asserted against the firm, especially because legal constraints prevent us from responding fully at this time,” he said in May 2012. “In the end, facts – not unfounded claims – will determine the outcome of the suit filed against us.”
Because, you know, women make false sexual harassment and assault reports like, all the time—ESPECIALLY when it could jeopardize their careers and ruin their very public reputations. Bitches be crazy!
Pao’s allegations detail some pretty heinous sexual harassment, workplace bullying, and systematic discrimination. After rebuffing several sexual advances from fellow junior partner Ajit Nazre and dealing with the fallout of his obstructionism, Pao said she eventually “succumbed” to his advances on two or three occasions, but ended the relationship in October 2006 after which Nazre allegedly set off a pattern of retaliation that went on for five years.
Among Nazre’s retaliatory actions: he allegedly excluded Pao from business meetings, removed her from business email discussions, prevented her from interviewing potential employees, and failed to share information required for her job. During this time, Pao complained repeatedly to HR and senior partners, but no action was taken. Instead, Nazre was promoted to senior partner in the greentech division in which Pao worked, which gave him more direct control over her career.
Pao also says in the complaint that on Valentine’s Day 2007, senior partner Randy Komisar came into her office and gave her a book entitled “The Book of Longing,” which featured sexually explicit drawings and poems. Komisar then asked Pao out to dinner and mentioned that his wife would be out of town.
In the complaint, Ellen Pao alleges that the more she complained, the more KPCB engaged in systematic retaliation against her, including preventing her from being promoted or earning raises by setting up her annual performance reviews to be reviewed by people she hadn’t worked with that year and even the very people she had complained about.
In addition to the sexual harassment, Pao’s complaint accuses KPCB of being yet another Silicon Valley boys club, in which women are frequently and systematically shut out of important meetings, barred from rising in the ranks, and prevented from being able to earn compensation equal to male partners.
KPCB maintains that the case is without merit.
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