On Monday, March 9, one day after we all celebrated International Women’s Day, Ellen Pao, a Harvard-trained lawyer, took the stand in her sexual harassment trial against venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins in California. There are always two sides to every case, and Kleiner has just begun to cross examine Ms. Pao and offer its defense to her claims, so I do not profess to offer my views on which side is telling the truth. However, even before she testified, the evidence thus far has depicted an environment that – at least from what has been presented – was far from the model of the professional workplace.
First, there were alleged “slights” in the treatment of women at Kleiner. For example, women partners were not invited to an important client dinner with Vice President Al Gore and then were excluded from a company ski trip. One male partner asked two female junior partners to take notes at a meeting. The firm has explanations for all of these incidents, but women felt that they were being treated as second-class citizens.
Then there are the more significant “events” and incidents. It is undisputed that Ms. Pao had a consensual affair with a married partner. When that ended, the same partner appeared at the door of yet another female partner’s hotel room in a bathrobe carrying a wine bottle. When that woman complained, a partner suggested she “did not want to go public” and that she should be “flattered” by his attention. When Ms. Pao tried to complain about the partner, senior partner John Doerr laughed it off, claiming the partner was a “sex addict.”
Beyond these lurid incidents, the testimony also reveals a deeper possible double standard that the women like Ms. Pao had to endure. Ms. Pao’s evaluations revealed sometimes contradictory advice and criticism. In some situations they were told to “speak up,” while at other times they were told to be quiet.
When outside counsel (a male law firm partner) was finally brought in to investigate Ms. Pao’s complaint, it is alleged that no one could locate a copy of the firm’s harassment policy. When asked about Ms. Pao, Mr. Doerr told the investigator she had a “female chip on her shoulder.” Once he made his report, Mr. Doerr did not have time to read it, so it was merely “summarized” for him. There are also now allegations from Ms. Pao that the outside counsel was biased, as he was trying to get hired by Kleiner for an in-house position.
Ultimately, Ms. Pao claims that she was terminated in retaliation for reporting this alleged harassment.
Again, the trial continues and the defense is now cross-examining Ms. Pao and putting some holes in her story, but many of the facts which have come out at the trial are disturbing.
So you may ask yourself what does this case have to do with my company?
Continue Reading The Day of the Woman – Maybe Not at Kleiner Perkins