Ellen Pao asks court to dismiss Kleiner Perkins' bill for legal fees

Pao's attorneys say the nearly $1 million she owes in legal fees to the venture capital firm is "grossly excessive."

Terry Collins Staff Reporter, CNET News
Terry writes about social networking giants and legal issues in Silicon Valley for CNET News. He joined CNET News from the Associated Press, where he spent the six years covering major breaking news in the San Francisco Bay Area. Before the AP, Terry worked at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis and the Kansas City Star. Terry's a native of Chicago.
Terry Collins
3 min read

Ellen Pao is asking a judge to dismiss nearly $1 million in legal fees that she owes as a result of losing her high-profile sex discrimination case against one of Silicon Valley's most prestigious venture capital firms.

"The amounts (Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers) seeks to recover are improper under the law and, in any event, are grossly excessive and unreasonable," Pao and her attorneys wrote. "Kleiner Perkins must prove that Ms. Pao's case was frivolous or malicious -- a standard it cannot meet."

Pao's legal team made the request in a court filing in San Francisco Friday against the VC firm that's seeking to recover about $973,000 in legal fees after successfully fending off her lawsuit. The filing is in response to Kleiner Perkins' April 23 court filing against Pao seeking the legal fees.

Ellen Pao, right, with attorney Therese Lawless after their courtroom loss. Pao is asking a judge to dismiss her paying legal fees. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A hearing date on the matter has been scheduled for June 18 in San Francisco Superior Court. Pao had sought $16 million in lost wages and potential earnings, according to her lawsuit and subsequent trial, which rocked Silicon Valley, captured the nation's attention and cast a spotlight on gender and racial disparities in tech.

There is a way out for Pao: Kleiner Perkins has said that it would waive the fees if she agrees not to appeal her loss.

"KPCB has offered to waive all legal costs due to the firm should Ellen Pao choose to bring this legal matter to a close," Kleiner Perkins spokeswoman Christina Lee said last month. "We believe women in technology would be best served by having all parties focus on making progress on the issues of gender diversity outside of continued litigation."

Pao's team was "considering the proposal" at the time. No decision has been made yet, Heather Wilson, a spokeswoman for former Kleiner Perkins employee Pao, said Friday.

A San Francisco jury of six men and six women on March 27 rejected Pao's claim of discrimination and retaliation over her 2012 firing from Kleiner Perkins. The month-long trial included accusations of a boys club-like atmosphere at the firm, testimony about alleged poor job performance on Pao's part during her seven years there, and discussion of Pao's affair with a married colleague.

In the latest court filing, Pao attorneys said Kleiner Perkins must prove that Pao's suit was brought in "bad faith, frivolously, or maliciously" before it can recover any costs, specifically citing Kleiner Perkins' cost of about $865,000 in expert witness fees.

"(Kleiner Perkins') offer was not made in good faith and had no reasonable expectation of acceptance, given the extremely high liability exposure and the extensive attorney's fees that had been generated as of the offer," Pao's attorneys wrote.

"Although Ms. Pao did not ultimately prevail, there is absolutely no argument in her lawsuit, which raised important issues in the courtroom and sparked a broader conversation about gender parity which continues to this day, was frivolous or in bad faith," Pao's attorneys added.

Pao, 45, and now the CEO at the social-networking and news site Reddit, said in interviews last month she and her representatives were "in the midst of making some decisions" about whether to appeal the case. She has until June 8.