September 22, 2021

Ellen Pao ends fight with Kleiner Perkins

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Pao-Ellen-Vert-201503091755By Marisa Kendall, From The Recorder

SAN FRANCISCO — Ellen Pao has announced she will drop her appeal against venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, saying she can’t afford to continue the fight.

Pao’s decision ends a courtroom drama that captivated Silicon Valley and spurred debate about workplace discrimination in the tech sector.

In a lengthy op-ed posted Thursday morning on tech blog re/code, Pao said she is “moving on.” “My experience shows how difficult it is to address discrimination through the court system,” she wrote.

Pao lost gender-discrimination and wrongful-termination claims against her former employer after a monthlong trial in San Francisco Superior Court earlier this year. She had accused Kleiner Perkins of condoning a “boy’s club” culture that prevented women from moving up in the company. Pao had taken the first steps to appeal the jury’s verdict but wrote on Thursday that she couldn’t risk having to pay additional costs, if she were to lose on appeal.

She did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Pao is currently on the hook for $276,000 in legal costs, a bill Kleiner had offered to waive if she agreed not to appeal. An insider with knowledge of the case said that offer still stands.

In an emailed statement, a Kleiner representative said the company is happy to put the trial in the past.

“There is no question diversity in the workplace is an important issue,” the representative wrote. “[Kleiner] remains committed to supporting women and minorities in venture capital and technology both inside our firm and within our industry.”

Pao took issue with the court system Thursday and suggested Kleiner Perkins’ greater legal, financial and public-relations resources contributed to her loss. “Forcing plaintiffs in civil rights actions to pay for defendants’ costs is just wrong,” she wrote. “With my resources and fortitude and the strength of my case, I still cannot afford to take further legal action.”

The deck is stacked against plaintiffs in other ways, as well, Pao wrote. During jury selection, jurors who expressed a belief that sexism in tech exists—a belief Pao called “widely recognized”—were dismissed. And California law makes it difficult for plaintiffs to win by requiring them to prove the discrimination they experienced was intentional and a substantially motivating factor for different treatment.

Some lawyers following the trial had been skeptical of Pao’s chances on appeal, as San Francisco Judge Harold Kahn had ruled in her favor on key pre-trial motions.

Pao stepped down as interim CEO of Reddit this summer amid controversy surrounding the firing of a popular employee.

She is represented by Therese Lawless of Lawless & Lawless and Alan Exelrod of Rudy, Exelrod, Zieff & Lowe. Kleiner is represented by Lynne Hermle of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe.

IMAGE: Ellen Pao and legal team leaving court Jason Doiy / The Recorder

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