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Mar 10, 2015 4:36 PM

Woman suing Silicon Valley firm says she asked for $10M

The Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) The woman behind a sex discrimination lawsuit against one of Silicon Valley's most prestigious venture capital firms testified Tuesday that the company repeatedly dismissed her attempts to open a discussion about gender bias and instead hired an antagonistic investigator to look into her complaint.

Plaintiff Ellen Pao took the stand for a second day in the high-profile case against Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, saying its chief operating officer told her the company wanted her to leave after she filed a written bias complaint in 2012.

The lawsuit by the 45-year-old Pao says she had been retaliated against for years then fired nine months after she filed the complaint and five months after she sued the firm.

Kleiner Perkins has denied wrongdoing and says Pao didn't get along with her colleagues and performed poorly as a junior partner.

Pao was expected to face questioning later in the day by an attorney for Kleiner Perkins.

The lawsuit has spotlighted gender imbalance at elite Silicon Valley investment companies that are stacked with some of the nation's most accomplished graduates multiple degree holders from schools such as Stanford and Harvard who are competing aggressively to back the next Google or Amazon.

Women, however, are grossly underrepresented in the venture capital and technology sectors.

Pao seemed to address those concerns Tuesday, saying her lawsuit was aimed in part at creating equal opportunities for women in the venture capital sector.

"It's been a long journey, and I've tried many times to bring Kleiner Perkins to the right path," she told jurors. "I think there should be equal opportunities for women and men to be venture capitalists."

She also told jurors that she had sought $10 million from the firm in exchange for voluntarily leaving, saying she believed the figure would prompt the firm to change its treatment of women.

"I thought $10 million would be a meaningful number that would actually hit their radar," she said.

Pao did not receive the money and continued working at the firm. Her lawsuit seeks $16 million in damages.

Pao was composed on the stand, even while discussing potentially emotional topics such as her firing.

She said Steve Hirschfeld, an investigator hired by Kleiner Perkins to look into her complaint, did not appear open to what she had to say.

"It felt antagonistic," she said. "There were times I felt he was grilling me about answers I didn't have."

Hirschfeld eventually concluded that Pao had not been retaliated against and there was no gender discrimination at the firm.

Pao said she filed her lawsuit after running out of ways to try to get her concerns addressed within the company. But afterward, partners stopped coming to her office to talk, she felt she had been demoted, and received a poor performance review, she said.

She was told in October 2012 to pack up her belongings and leave the office, she said.

Pao's attorneys have tried to portray the firm as an old-boys club.

In her testimony Monday, Pao said she was given a poetry book by a senior partner in 2007 that featured drawings of naked women and poems on topics such as the longings of an older man for younger women. The partner also invited her to dinner one weekend, noting his wife would be out of town, she said.

"I thought it was strange, and it made me uncomfortable," Pao testified.

Pao acknowledged having an affair with a male colleague that she said began after he said his wife had left him. She said she broke it off when she learned that was a lie.

She said the colleague later retaliated by shutting her out of emails and meetings.

When she raised the retaliation issue with management, a senior partner explained how he had met his wife at another company while he was married, and perhaps Pao could have the same outcome with her colleague, she testified.

She said she repeatedly complained that the colleague was retaliating against her, but "Kleiner Perkins continued to do nothing."


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