This week, the tech world will be watching a jury trial between reddit’s interim CEO Ellen Pao and her former employer, the illustrious venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers (KPCB). Back in 2012, Ellen Pao, then a junior partner at KPCB, filed a lawsuit (PDF) against the firm, alleging systematic gender discrimination against her and other female staff.
It’s surprising that Pao vs. Kleiner Perkins wasn’t settled long ago. Parties often avoid high-profile trials because they can damage company and personal reputations alike, sometimes irreparably. For KPCB, involvement in the case could tarnish its stellar reputation as the firm that helped build Amazon, Netscape, Genentech, and Google. For Pao, a jury trial will mean putting the details of her private life under a microscope for the world to see. Of course, the two parties could settle at the last minute, but recent reports suggest that the fighting has become so bitter that a last-minute accord seems unlikely.
In a broader sense, this means that lawyers in a San Francisco courtroom will spend the next month fleshing out what could become the most notorious data point in the long-standing contention that overt and not-so-overt discrimination hobbles women in tech and finance. It’s no secret that venture capital firms are overwhelmingly male-dominated and that tech firms often exhibit behavior that would be unwelcome in all but the worst fraternities. In her complaint against Kleiner, Pao suggests that she has evidence to prove a litany of awkward sexual overtures made toward her by colleagues, as well as proof of a deafening silence when she brought the issues up to management. KPCB, for its part, says it champions women (PDF) and that Pao created her own drama wherever she went. Whatever the jury decides, the trial with undoubtedly cast light on a complex and difficult issue.
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