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One Of Silicon Valley’s Highest Profile Gender Discrimination Suits Goes To Trial This Week

In a public space, a private, high-powered problem plays out.

One Of Silicon Valley’s Highest Profile Gender Discrimination Suits Goes To Trial This Week
[Photo: Flickr user easylocum]

Update, Feb. 25 11:40 a.m. ET: A previously unnamed witness in this case has come forward. Former Kleiner Perkins partner Trae Vassallo will testify to also having been inappropriately approached by Ajit Nazre. Vassallo, like Pao, claims that Nazre retaliated against her after she rejected his advances, Re/code reports.

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Tech’s diversity problem is no secret: The tech sphere is riddled with stories of women experiencing discrimination, running the spectrum from deeply ingrained unconscious bias to sexual assault and intimidation.

Jury selection begins today in a trial that’s had Silicon Valley talking for more than three years. Venture capitalist Ellen Pao brings her gender discrimination case against prominent VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers to court this week. She seeks as much as $16 million in damages.

Pao, now acting as interim chief executive at Reddit, joined Kleiner in 2005 as a junior partner. In 2006, she claims to have been pressured into an affair by Ajit Nazre, a married partner at the firm. When she broke it off, she says, Nazre began cutting her out of professional emails and meetings and retaliating against her career. Pao says that when she complained to her boss, John Doerr, she was ignored. He publicly denied her case’s validity and claims of gender discrimination, citing the firm’s “dozen female partners” and women-lead partner companies. “We’re backing them not because they are women,” Doerr wrote, according to Business Insider, “but because they are the best at what they do.”

Pao’s 2012 complaint calls Kleiner partners out for repeatedly blocking women from opportunities, including calling them buzzkills and believing that women are intrinsically incapable of the leadership potential they claim to have fired her for. The firm maintains that her complaints, including not having an office in the “power corridor” and being asked to take meeting notes, are unfounded and unrealistic.

According to the New York Times, the firm stands by their claim that it was not her gender, but her lack of leadership qualities that led to Pao’s negative reviews and dismissal: Kleiner says she “lacked the ability to lead others, build consensus and be a team player, which is crucial to a successful career as a venture capital senior investing partner.”

This certainly isn’t the first time there has been a high-profile firing of a woman executive where her leadership style has been cited as a reason.

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When these battles of sexism play out in public–as messy and unfiltered as a court case can be–it’s at best a fascinating look into the issue of discrimination in Silicon Valley as a trendsetter for the rest of the country.

[via The New York Times]

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About the author

Freelance tech, science and culture writer. Find Sam on the Internet: @samleecole.

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