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Ellen Pao’s Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Rattles Silicon Valley

Ellen Pao’s Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Rattles Silicon Valley
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Ellen Pao, a junior partner at well-respected Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, has filed a sexual discrimination lawsuit against the firm and her colleagues including noted venture capitalist John Doerr. According to the suit, which was filed May 10 in California Superior Court in San Francisco, Pao — “considered as thoughtful and smart by investors and entrepreneurs,” according to Forbes – says that she was sexually harassed and discriminated against by her colleagues at Kleiner, an early investor in Google and Amazon.

Pao’s Lawsuit Highlights Gender Discrimination in Silicon Valley

Pao’s lawsuit has already damaged Kleiner Perkins, as Connie Loizos wrote on PEHub, and has sent shock waves throughout Silicon Valley, bringing an “old, old problem” — the lopsided ratio of men to women in the technology world and certainly as venture capitalists and CEOs — to the fore. As the New York Times’ Bits blog notes, woman account for only 6 percent of CEOS at the top technology companies; 22 percent of software engineers at tech companies are women. Women only make up 9.1 percent of board members of Silicon Valley companies; they make up 16 percent of board members for Standard & Poor’s 500 companies.

The “shock” of the lawsuit has been all the greater because Kleiner Perkins, among other Silicon Valley venture capitalists, has been interested in hiring women. One-quarter of its partners are female, the New York Times says.

While women who work at Kleiner Perkins are described as “certainly not united behind” Pao, a  number of women quoted in the New York Times say that Pao’s lawsuit has far eclipsed all other talk in Silicon Valley:

“When the news broke, we stopped what we were doing and were, like, ‘Whoa,’ ” said Claire Mazur, a founder of Of a Kind, an e-commerce start-up based in New York….

One woman said she interviewed at a top venture firm in 2000 after coming out of business school. “I was told point-blank that they once had a woman and it didn’t work out,” she said. “That was 12 years ago and they haven’t had a single woman partner since.”

Pao’s Lawsuit Against Kleiner Perkins

Specifically, Pao contends that, starting in 2006, investment partner Ajit Nazre sexually harassed her. While she “succumbed to Mr. Nazre’s insistence on sexual relations on two or three occasions,” she told him in October 2006 that she did not want to have a personal relationship with him.  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, removing her from the board of a start-up and requesting that she transfer to the firm’s office in China. In the meantime, Nazre was promoted to lead Kleiner Perkins’s green technology unit and given an office across the hall from Pao’s.

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81 comments

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2:33AM PST on Feb 8, 2013

a cruel world.


7:32AM PDT on Sep 4, 2012

How nice of a female lawyer to make allegations about a female she doesn't know and suggest there's something fishy about her waiting so long to bring a suit. It may have been that she'd tried to settle things within the firm and tried to better things on her own, but eventually found nothing would change. It may have been the case. Neither I or Michelle Heverly know the facts and neither of us can make a judgment in the case.

5:16PM PDT on Jun 21, 2012

Men like Ajit Nazre need an old fashion attitude adjustment called castration both financially and physically. I guess Pao can be greatful she doesn't work in India where Nazre would have had her stoned, burned or beheaded. I'm betting if Nazre hadn't pushed for the sex then she wouldn't have had sex with him. That simple. Men need to grow up and stop treating women and girls like their existence is for male pleasure and servitude only. Even if the affair started out mutual, Nazre had no right to punish her for ending it.

1:29AM PDT on Jun 6, 2012

Good luck and best wishes Pao.

4:17PM PDT on Jun 5, 2012

It is infuriating in the 21st century that any of this nonsense is going on.

12:52PM PDT on Jun 5, 2012

YOU GO GIRL.....I WISH YOUR ENDEAVOUR IS SUCCESSFUL FOR YOU WILL BE 'EVERY WOMAN' IN THIS CASE WHO HAS HAD TO ENDURE THE GOOD OL BOY NETWORKS THTOUGHOUT AMERICAN BUSINESS.

12:34PM PDT on Jun 5, 2012

This is SO recognizable (being a female in a male dominated field). First, there are isolated behaviors such as somebody reprimands a colleague for not getting sex, and somebody excludes females from an event. In a normal world, behaviors like that would've been taken care of by the business. But in the boys club everybody takes sides with their buddies, against the victims. Then the problem becomes company wide discrimination.

I wish her to win.

5:33AM PDT on Jun 5, 2012

I hope she wins.

4:18AM PDT on Jun 5, 2012

"...unless she was beholden to a paycheck..."? WHY does that jerk think most people get up and go to a job at a scheduled time?! Yes, she needed her paycheck, but she refused to be pimped out to get it. For that, she wasn't fired, but was transferred and her prospects at the company ruined. When stuff like that happens, a person is in a state of emotional shock and can't properly process everything. Only with time does the pattern of the employer's complicity in the harassments become clear.

I hope she wins.

2:48AM PDT on Jun 5, 2012

Sexual harassment is sexual harassment, and when it happened doesn't mitigate the fact that it happened folks! How anyone can question "timing or motive" has never been a victim of sexual harassment at work.

I had the experience of being pawed by my boss early in my work career, and when I complained to HR, I was told 'he wouldn't do something like that'! When I confronted my boss directly, he said 'why do you think you were hired'!!! And was fired on the spot!
That was in the 60's - and it's still going on . . .

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