When jurors returned from deliberation in San Francisco Superior Court last week, they somberly delivered a verdict rejecting all of the gender discrimination claims that former junior partner Ellen Pao had made against VC firm Kleiner Perkins. For some of those outside of the courtroom, this was a surprise—over the course of the five-week trial, Ellen Pao had become almost a folk hero, fighting against the status quo that’s kept a lot of women out of investing roles and the boardroom since the dawn of the industrial revolution.
For those inside the courtroom, the verdict was less of a shock. The trial left no one unsullied, but Pao’s case came down to her own word against a cadre of Kleiner partners’ denials, as well as a flurry of mixed performance reviews. The plaintiff’s attorneys had a difficult time showing that Kleiner Perkins partners had unscrupulous opinions about women when they took the stand, and no smoking gun appeared that Kleiner couldn’t cast doubt on with a well-placed “I don’t recall.” Kleiner took advantage of Pao’s side’s weaknesses by questioning why Pao would want to take this trial all the way to a courtroom instead of finding an equitable solution for herself and her fellow female coworkers outside of court.
How subtle does bias have to be to not exist?
Since the verdict, much ink has been spilled over why Pao lost. Was Pao an imperfect plaintiff? Were Pao’s claims too gray for the black-and-white of a jury trial? Was the boys’ club atmosphere described by Pao simply a figment of her imagination, made up of a mountain of perceived slights?
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