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Judge holds firm on Ellen Pao payment of $276,000 to Kleiner Perkins

That dollar figure to cover legal fees is a quarter of what Pao's former employer had requested. "I think I got the right ballpark," the judge says.


Ellen Pao (center) must pay nearly $276,000 to her former employer, venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, after losing her sex discrimination trial. Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Ellen Pao must pay more than a quarter of a million dollars to her former employer, Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, as a result of losing her high-profile sex discrimination case against them, a San Francisco judge ruled Thursday.

Superior Court Judge Harold Kahn stood by his tentative ruling on Wednesday ordering Pao to pay $275, 966.33 to mostly cover for the cost of the firm's expert witnesses. Kahn cited that Kleiner Perkins' offer to waive its claim of nearly $1 million in legal fees in April was a reasonable settlement offer.

Pao and her attorneys, Alan Exelrod and Therese Lawless, had requested Kahn dismiss the order to the storied VC firm, arguing that the amount was "grossly excessive and unreasonable." Exelrod maintained his client's position Thursday, but Kahn rejected his notion as the judge said he came up with the "scaled" amount citing California's Fair Employment and Housing Act, a statue used to fight sexual discrimination against employers.

While Exelrod said the scaled fee was "still an extremely large number," Kahn reiterated that it's within bounds for Pao. The judge said he took into consideration the financial resources of both parties and ordered Pao to pay the firm an amount similar to what she paid for her expert witnesses during the trial.

"I think I got the right ballpark," Kahn said. "Want to contest jury food?"

The ruling is the latest episode after a jury of six men and six women in March rejected Pao's claim of discrimination and retaliation over her 2012 firing from Kleiner Perkins. The monthlong trial featured accusations of a boys club-like atmosphere at the firm, testimony about alleged poor job performance during Pao's seven years there, and discussion of Pao's affair with a married colleague.

Pao had sought $16 million in lost wages in the trial that rocked Silicon Valley, captured the nation's attention and cast a spotlight on gender and racial disparities in tech.

Kahn's tentative ruling Wednesday on Pao's motion to strike the legal costs was both "granted in part and denied in part," as the nearly $276,000 in fees is only a little more than one-quarter of the nearly $973,000 Kleiner Perkins was seeking as its legal right.

Kleiner Perkins' attorney, Lynne Hermle, said Thursday that she thought the judge granted an appropriate award. Now Kleiner awaits what's next -- Pao filed a notice to appeal on June 1.

Hermle said the firm will respond if Pao formally files an appeal.

"She could withdraw at any time. She might conclude she wants to engage in a settlement discussion with us," Hermle said. "A settlement is always on the table."

But Hermle cautioned that she doesn't know what Pao is thinking.

"I've never had good insight into how Ellen thinks," Hermle said. "I'm pretty direct. If it were me, I'd call up and say, 'I'd like to settle.' But I don't know. I don't know what's in her head."

Meanwhile, Kleiner Perkins general partners John Doerr and Beth Seidenberg said in an interview Thursday with Bloomberg TV that they felt betrayed by Pao, and believe she doesn't want to settle.

"If -- if it were that easy, it would have been done," Doerr said. "I will just tell you, it's not possible."

"And we have tried," Seidenberg added. "Very hard."

While Doerr was emphatic that Kleiner Perkins wasn't found liable, he said the trial wasn't a clear victory for the firm.

"Now, we know there was a second trial going on, in the court of public opinion. And -- on this topic of diversity, it found against the technology industry and, we, in the venture industry," he said. "We get that.

"But more than anything else, I'm sorry that it's hard for venture capital and minorities in the tech industry."

Pao, the current interim CEO of the social-networking and news site Reddit, did not attend Thursday's hearing. Exelrod and Lawless had no comment after the judge's ruling.

Update, 5 p.m. PT: Adds comments from Kleiner Perkins general partners.