Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers has been sued by Ellen Pao, one of its investment partners, over gender discrimination and acts of retaliation that she has allegedly encountered during her seven years at the firm.
Before we get further into this, we need to note that we are only going to present the available information on the case. The story is breaking. Right now, the majority of the information is provided by the plaintiff. The following statement is what we have received from Kleiner:
In response to a discrimination complaint filed in the Superior Court of San Francisco by Ellen Pao, Christina Lee, a Kleiner Perkins spokesperson, stated the Firm regrets that the situation is being litigated publicly and had hoped the two parties could have reached resolution, particularly given Pao’s 7-year history with the firm. Following a thorough independent investigation of the facts, the firm believes the lawsuit is without merit and intends to vigorously defend the matter. The Firm has been a diversity pioneer in its industry and was one of the first venture capital firms to hire women as partners. The number of women partners at the firm is one of the highest within the venture capital arena and the firm has actively supported women in all respects.
We’ve uploaded the 19-page lawsuit in its entirety here at the very bottom of this post, and below we’ve excerpted some of the key allegations:
- In February 2006, about six months into her employment with Kleiner Perkins, Pao, then a junior partner, went on a business trip to Germany with another then-junior partner, Ajit Nazre. During that time, Nazre allegedly made “inappropriate sexual advances” toward Pao, which she allegedly “rebuffed” at the start.
- In the following months, however, Pao “eventually succumbed to Mr. Nazre’s insistence on sexual relations on two or three occasions.” According to the complaint, Nazre, who was married at the time, had “falsely told [Pao] that his wife had left him.
- In October 2006, Pao allegedly informed Nazre that their personal relationship was over. It was then that she alleges “Nazre started a consistent pattern of retaliation against her” that she says lasted more than five years and included him excluding her from business meetings, removing her from email discussions, failing to share information she needed for her job, blocking her from interviewing new employees, and more.
- According to the suit, Nazre was not the only one who made advances to Pao. Several months after Pao allegedly ended her relationship with Nazre, this allegedly happened:
“For Valentine’s Day 2007 Senior Partner Randy Komisar came into [Pao's] office and gave her a book entitled ‘The Book of Longing’ by Leonard Cohen, inscribed with a handwritten note from Mr. Komisar to Plaintiff. The book contains many sexual drawings and poems with strong sexual content. At about the same time, Mr. Komisar asked [Pao] out to a Saturday night dinner, telling Plaintiff that his wife would be out of town.”
Pao did not accept the invitation, the suit says.
- When Pao reported the situation, the suit says, “she was told that it was unfair, that it would never have happened to a male partner, but that she should just accept it.”
- Pao also claims she was not alone in being the victim of unwanted advances at work. According to the suit, “at least three administrative assistants complained that they were being harassed or discriminated against by KPCB partners in May 2007.” Kleiner Perkins allegedly hired an outside investigator to look into those claims.
- When Pao talked to an outside human resources consultant in August 2009, she was allegedly told that “she would not be successful at KPCB because she complained and that going forward she should drop her complaints, because no one would do anything about them.”
- Ray Lane, a senior Kleiner partner, allegedly asked Pao to let go of her complaints and encouraged her to have a romantic relationship with Nazre after all. The suit reads:
“Ray Lane pressured [Pao] to drop the matter because of Mr. Lane’s close ties with and mentorship of Mr. Nazre. Though Plaintiff had formally complained about Mr. Nazre’s behavior, Mr. Lane encouraged [Pao] to engage in a personal relationship with Mr. Nazre and even to marry him. Mr. Lane said, however, that in such case, either Plaintiff or Mr. Nazre would have to leave the firm because two spouses could not work together at KPCB.”
- Firm-wide gender discrimination is also alleged in the suit, which says that women at Kleiner are regularly excluded from events. Here are a couple of recent alleged instances of this detailed in the claim:
“In early 2011, KPCB partners led by Chi-Hua Chien organized a dinner event at the San Francisco home of one of the partners. The dinner was for select KPCB partners and leading executives at KPCB-funded companies, as well as leading executives of other companies KPCB thought were influential. Only male KPCB partners and male executives were invited and attended. Mr. Chien deliberately excluded all KPCB women from the event solely on the basis of their gender. Mr. Chien organized a second all-male dinner at the same partner’s home in August 2011. Women were excluded for the same reason. At a weekly Digital Group partner meeting partner’s complaint, Mr. Chien replied that women were not invited because they would ‘kill the buzz’.”
- Also in the complaint: “In December 2011, Randy Komisar, a Senior Partner, told [Pao] that the personalities of women do not lead to success at KPCB, because women are quiet.”
Here is the suit in its entirety: