3. Judge Rules Against Arbitration in Ellen Pao’s Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Against Kleiner Perkins
On May 10, Ellen Pao, a junior partner at well-respected Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, filed a sexual discrimination lawsuit against the firm and her colleagues including noted venture capitalist John Doerr. According to the suit, which was filed in California Superior Court in San Francisco, Pao alleged that she and 20 other female employees (referred to as “Jane Does” in the lawsuit) were sexually harassed and discriminated against by their colleagues at Kleiner, an early investor in Google and Amazon.
Kleiner has denied Pao’s allegations and had been seeking to send her sexual discrimination lawsuit to arbitration, which would have kept the kept publicity, and gossip, about the case under wraps. On Friday, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Harold Kahn rejected Kleiner’s arguments that Pao had signed employment agreements binding her to arbitrate any legal disputes. Kleiner has said that it will appeal.
On the New York Times’ Bits blog, David Streitfield discusses some more details of Pao’s lawsuit and, in particular, Book of Longing, a book of poetry by Leonard Cohen that (improbably) is playing a key role in the case. Pao contends that, starting in 2006, investment partner Ajit Nazre sexually harassed her, and that, when she complained to senior partners and human resources executives at the firm, they retaliated by limiting her prospects for career advancement and her income. In the meantime, Nazre was promoted to lead Kleiner Perkins’s green technology unit and given an office across the hall from Pao’s.
Another colleague apparently gave Cohen’s book to Pao:
Ms. Pao suggests in her suit that a senior partner’s gift of “Longing” was equivalent to making a crude proposal or touching in an inappropriate place — way beyond the pale for acceptable office behavior. That senior partner, Randy Komisar, says the truth is more prosaic, according to the legal papers. He and Ms. Pao had a discussion about Mr. Komisar’s Buddhism, and she gave him a statue of Buddha as a holiday gift, the papers say. Mr. Komisar’s wife chose the Cohen book as a return gift. Kleiner notes in the papers that The New York Times called the book “profound.” True. But the same review also called it “steamy.”
What to make of this? Well, if I gave a copy of this book to a co-worker who decided she was offended, there are plenty of lines I would be uncomfortable hearing read to me by someone from the Human Resources Department: “You came to me this morning/ And you handled me like meat/ You’d have to be a man to know/ How good that feels how sweet.”
Based on these details, it seems that Pao’s suit seeks to show that it was not only Nazre who harassed her, but that the very culture of Kleiner was hostile to women and, indeed, contained elements of harassment and discrimination.
As Mayer’s new position and Pao’s lawsuit show, no one should think they can get away with the kind of “puerile behavior” someone at Microsoft was engaging in, when he wrote that string of code.
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