Ellen Pao lost her widely watched case against the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins last Friday.
After a four-week trial, which gripped the west coast tech scene by revealing the inner workings of such a secretive industry, the jury found that venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB) did not discriminate against Pao - now interim CEO of Reddit.
Pao’s lawyer, Alan Exelrod, had argued Kleiner was a “boys’ club” whose ingrained culture discriminated against a talented woman. However, the jury sided with Kleiner Perkins’ case that Pao was fired because she was bad at her job, and was divisive and not a team player. Kleiner Perkins’ lawyer Lynne Hermle said in closing arguments that Pao’s claims were “meritless and frivolous”.
The jury of six men and six women found that there was no case to answer on Pao’s main claim that she was discriminated against on the basis of her gender. It also found that she was not fired in retaliation for suing the firm.
The case has shone a light on the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley. Women hold 11% of executive positions at Silicon Valley companies compared to 16% across the top 100 Standard & Poor’s firms, according to a report by law firm Fenwick & West. Silicon Valley firms boards are on average 15.7% female compared with 20.9% in the S&P 100.
According to Slate, “even if the jury does return with a complete victory for Kleiner Perkins, the heavy media coverage of the trial, especially in the tech press, has started some important conversations about the subtle digs and unconscious sexism that keep women out of the top ranks of the tech industry. The jury may not have been convinced that Pao was discriminated against, but hopefully in the future, leadership in the tech world will put a little more work into treating women with respect, instead of subjecting them to double standards.”
The decision does not set any legal precedent, but the publicity generated by the case will definitely have an impact on the society at large. According to Kelly Dermody, managing partner at Lief Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein’s San Francisco employment practice group, “we’re witnessing a generation of women coming forward who have felt that their attempts to work within the system didn’t ultimately change the culture, and they need outside assistance to actually require employers to act fairly…..“I’m very encouraged that there are women like Ellen Pao who will file lawsuits and say, this is too much,” said Dermody. “If there aren’t people like that, we won’t fix it.”
If you feel you have been discriminated against in the workplace because of your gender, be sure to explore your rights under the law.