5 Reasons Silicon Valley Is Riveted By The Ellen Pao Trial

By Tracey Lien
Los Angeles Times.

With salacious details of workplace trysts and alleged discrimination and the potentially high financial stakes involved, the trial of venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers has captured the imagination of Silicon Valley.

As the jury continues to deliberate over whether the firm discriminated against former junior partner Ellen Pao because of her gender, technology companies and venture capital firms are keeping a close eye on the trial, and with good reason. Here are five reasons why.

The trial has so far aired the dirty laundry of one of Silicon Valley’s most prominent venture capital firms. Weeks of testimony exposed details of workplace trysts, all-male outings, porn talk and alleged routine harassment. There have been accusations of a male colleague retaliating against Pao in the workplace after she ended a romantic relationship between them. Another female former partner testified that the same male colleague touched her with his leg under a table and appeared at her hotel room one night in a bathrobe and slippers. Pao’s attorneys have painted Kleiner Perkins as a boys club where little was done to prevent gender discrimination.

Kleiner Perkins is a highly successful venture capital firm known throughout Silicon Valley for its track record of savvy investments. Since its founding in 1972, it has backed companies such as Amazon, Google, Compaq, Netscape and Electronic Arts. More recent investments include Snapchat, Twitter, Spotify and Uber. As a major player in the world of technology, what happens at Kleiner Perkins matters.

Pao is seeking $16 million in lost wages and bonuses — a drop in a bucket for a firm that holds stakes in multibillion-dollar companies. The payout could potentially be significant if she is awarded punitive damages, though. That amount will “be an issue decided later,” Judge Harold Kahn told the jury on Wednesday. Punitive damages could raise Pao’s total award to as much as $160 million.

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