Kleiner run ‘like a boys club,’ Pao attorney tells jurors: Reuters

Venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers was run “like a boys club,” a lawyer for one of its former partners who is suing the firm for sex discrimination told jury members on Tuesday.

During closing arguments in San Francisco Superior Court, plaintiff Ellen Pao‘s attorney Alan Exelrod said the culture at Kleiner Perkins disrespected women, that men took the lead, and that “no woman was going to challenge them.”

“They ran Kleiner Perkins like a boys club,” Exelrod said, in a case that helped spark a broad discussion about sexism in Silicon Valley.

However, Kleiner attorney Lynne Hermle defended the firm’s treatment of women and said Pao herself never tried to help female co-workers.

“The complaints of Ellen Pao were made for only one purpose: a huge payout for Team Ellen,” Hermle said.

The case has laid bare the personnel matters of the firm that backed Google Inc and Amazon.com Inc, painting it as a quarrelsome pressure cooker where a former male partner used business trips as opportunities to make advances to female colleagues.

Jurors are being asked to decide whether Kleiner discriminated against Pao based on her gender and whether it retaliated against her.

Ellen Pao, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers
Former Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers Partner Ellen Pao arrives at San Francisco Superior Court in San Francisco, California March 24, 2015. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

Pao, now interim chief executive at social-news service Reddit, claims her standing at Kleiner crumbled after she ended a brief affair with partner Ajit Nazre. Her career deteriorated after he and Kleiner started retaliating against her, her lawyers argue.

The firm vigorously disputes those charges and has presented evidence that Kleiner went out of its way to hire women.

Pao sought to illustrate her point with testimony from former Kleiner partner, Trae Vassallo, who said Nazre appeared at her hotel room on a business trip. He wore a bathrobe and carried a glass of wine, according to testimony.

Kleiner has argued that it investigated Nazre after Vassallo complained, after which he quickly left the firm.

Some witnesses, including Pao’s onetime mentor John Doerr, have testified that Pao’s lack of advancement stemmed from subpar performance.

Hermle said that despite those perceived shortcomings, “John Doerr’s support for Ellen Pao was deep, and it was constant.”
Exelrod called Pao “a hardworking, incredibly thoughtful productive employee” who generated more revenue than any of the men who were promoted in 2012.

“Ellen Pao drove the returns. The men received the promotions,” Exelrod said.

Jurors are expected to begin deliberating following closing arguments.

(Reporting by Sarah McBride; Editing by Christian Plumb)