Closing salvos in Silicon Valley sex bias case
SAN FRANCISCO - Rival attorneys launched closing salvos Tuesday at jurors who will decide whether a renowned Silicon Valley venture capital firm was a "boys club" that discriminated against women.
Ellen Pao's lawyer sought to convince the panel that Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers (KPCB) had a double standard when it came to gender, and then retaliated against her when she complained about it.
"They ran Kleiner Perkins like a boys club," Pao's attoryney Alan Exelrod said during closing arguments in a packed courtroom.
KPCB lawyer Lynne Hermle fired back, arguing that Pao saw that "the writing was on the wall" that she wasn't up to snuff as a venture capitalist and set her sights on getting a multimillion-dollar windfall with a trumped-up sex discrimination suit.
Pao is asking that jurors make KPCB pay $16 million in money she would have made if she wasn't fired from the firm in 2012.
The judge this week cleared the way for the jury to award punitive damages that could multiply that figure tenfold.
"The complaints of Ellen Pao were made for only one purpose: a huge payout for team Ellen," Hermle told jurors.
"These claims are simply a continuation of Ellen Pao's attempts to blame others for her own failures."
Nerds with no social lives
Since the trial got underway four weeks ago, jurors have been presented contrasting views of Pao.
KPCB attorneys portrayed Pao as a calculating schemer burning with resentment and with a thirst for a quick buck.
Her side has painted the 42-year-old woman as an innocent victim of sexual discrimination common at the esteemed venture capital firm.
"The evidence in this case compels the conclusion that men were judged by one standard and women by another," Exelrod argued.
Exelrod took direct aim at revered venture capitalist John Doerr, contending that the dominance of men at KPCB belied talk about his devotion to gender diversity.
The lawyer cited testimony indicating Doerr liked to invest in "white male nerds who... have no social life" and suggested that the tone spread through the running of KPCB.
KPCB was established in 1972 and became a respected Silicon Valley venture capital firm by backing successes such as Amazon, Facebook and Google.
Pao contends that she and other women were passed over for advancement and endured harassment in a male-oriented culture.
Pao was hired in 2005 to be an office manager for Doerr and years later got a chance at an investment role.
"John Doerr's support for Ellen Pao was deep and it was constant," Hermle maintained, arguing that it was conflicts with co-workers and lack of skills that prevented her from advancing as a venture capitalist.
"She was already a success in her own mind, and she didn't need to fix or improve anything," Hermle said of Pao.
Exelrod argued that Pao had proven her skills at bringing money into KPCB, and even tried to get the firm interested in investing in Twitter when it was a small startup just getting its footing.
KPCB declined to put money into Twitter.
"The real irony here is because whatever you decide, your verdict is going to be announced to the world on Twitter," Exelrod told jurors.
Porn stars and longing
Hermle attacked Pao's credibility, arguing that she was being misleading about fighting for gender-quality at KPCB and that she was wrongly smearing the venture capital firm in a calculated quest for cash.
"None of this had anything to do with any woman except Ellen Pao," Hermle contended, pointing out that none of her female colleagues from KPCB joined in the suit.
During several days of testimony at trial, Pao maintained that women were shut out of some KPCB networking events and that bad behaviour by male colleagues included the gift of a "Book of Longing" poetry tome and a conversation that included talk of porn stars.
Hermle reminded jurors of a chart Pao made of co-workers she resented, including a married partner with whom she had an affair and high-profile partner Doerr.
"The only people you heard about that Ellen Pao did not have conflicts with were people with whom she didn't work closely," Hermle told jurors.
Hermle contended that Pao tried to "torpedo" a KPCB investigation into her complaint while devoting much time and effort to cultivating email trails and gathering digital documents to give lawyers handling her lawsuit.
While there may indeed be gender discrimination in the venture capital business, KPCB had a reputation as a leader in hiring women, some of whom have thrived, Hermle argued.