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Judge tentatively nixes arbitration in Kleiner Perkins sexism lawsuit

In a preliminary ruling, a California judge rejects the venture capitalist firm's bid to move the gender discrimination lawsuit brought by a junior partner into third-party arbitration.

Ellen Pao
Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers

The venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers was tentatively denied its request for arbitration in the gender discrimination lawsuit brought by junior partner Ellen Pao.

According to Reuters, Judge Harold Kahn made a preliminary ruling today that the case should continue to go through the courts rather than be moved to third-party arbitration, which the firm requested last month.

"There is no arbitration agreement between plaintiff and defendant," Kahn wrote in his initial ruling, according to Reuters.

Kleiner Perkins, in a statement, said it believes it has strong arguments and precedent to move the matter to arbitration, and said it was a more efficient and speedier process than going through the court. The firm added it was encouraged by Judge Kahn's willingness to hear its arguments on "third-party beneficiary and equitable estoppel claims."

Ellen Pao filed the complaint against her employer in the Superior Court of California on May 10. She alleged that she endured five years of retaliation for rebuffing sexual advances from senior partners and that the company discriminated against her and other female employees when it came to promotions and pay.

Her complaint outlines certain instances of alleged sexual advances by other partners, including receiving a book filled with sexual drawings and poems. Pao also alleges that male partners excluded female partners from an executive dinner because the women would "kill the buzz."

The firm denies all of Pao's allegations and in a response filed with the court last month, it said her complaints were "without merit."

"As is consistent with the other flawed and false allegations in her complaint, plaintiff has twisted facts and events in an attempt to create legal claims where none exist," Kleiner Perkins wrote in the response.

Judge Kahn's ruling is not yet final. A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday morning in which he will hear arguments from both sides on whether to move the suit to arbitration -- only then will he definitively make his decision. However, his preliminary ruling from today could be a forecast of which direction he's leaning.

Update, July 10, 12:15 p.m. PT: adds response from Kleiner Perkins.