SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – A landmark Silicon Valley sex bias case that has forced venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers to air awkward details about its operations goes to closing arguments on Tuesday after four weeks of testimony.
That will pave the way for a California jury to deliberate claims by former Kleiner partner Ellen Pao that have helped spark a broad discussion about sexism in the notoriously clubby tech start-up scene.
The case has laid bare the personnel matters of the firm that backed Google and Amazon, painting it as a quarrelsome pressure cooker where a former male partner used business trips as opportunities to make advances to female colleagues.
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. [L1N0VZ031]
The firm vigorously disputes those charges, presenting 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, not discrimination or retaliation.
But Pao’s attorneys argue she laid the groundwork for the firm’s highly successful investment in RPX, the patent company, as well as suggesting an investment in Twitter, an idea more senior partners rejected.
Pao herself testified for five days and faced tough questions both from Kleiner’s legal team and from jurors in the case. One juror asked if it was “professional to enter into affair with married partner?”
“Going back I would not have done it again, but I didn’t think it was inappropriate at the time,” Pao said, emphasizing that Nazre had told her he was separated.
Among the firm’s high profile female hires was Mary Meeker, a technology analyst known as the Queen of the Net in the late 1990s, who testified last week that she has never encountered discrimination at Kleiner.
Jurors are expected to begin deliberating following closing arguments.