Partner sues Kleiner Perkins for gender discrimination

Venture capitalist Ellen Pao says she was retaliated against for rebuffing sexual advances from other partners.

Donna Tam
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Donna Tam covers Amazon and other fun stuff for CNET News. She is a San Francisco native who enjoys feasting, merrymaking, checking her Gmail and reading her Kindle.
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Venture capitalist Ellen Pao is suing her firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers for gender discrimination. Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers

A female junior partner has sued the venerable Silicon Valley VC firm Kleiner Perkins for alleged gender discrimination, saying she suffered retaliation for rebuffing sexual advances. (See the full complaint below.)

In a complaint filed May 10 in the Superior Court of California, Ellen Pao outlined more than five years of such behavior on the part of the firm's senior partners. Pao, a San Francisco resident, is alleging the company discriminated against her and other female employees when it came to promotions and pay.

According to the complaint, Pao lists 20 other female employees, known as Jane Does throughout the suit, who she said were also discriminated against.

Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, founded in 1972, is one of the most prominent venture-capital firms in the Valley. It's famous for big hits such as Google, Amazon, Genentech and Netscape, and more recently funded newly public startups Groupon and Zynga.

Pao is asking for compensation, including lost back pay, punitive damages, the cost of the suit and attorney's fee, and for the harassment and discrimination to stop.

Some of the alleged situations Pao describes in her suit:

  • Junior partner Ajit Nazre allegedly made sexual approaches to Pao while they were on a business trip to Germany. Pao said she rebuffed his advances, which made Nazre "brusque and distant." Nazre allegedly continued to make advances toward Pao over several months.
  • Pao said she "succumbed" to Nazre's "insistence on sexual relations" on "two or three occasions," but then then broke things off.
  • Nazre allegedly retaliated against Pao for more than five years by excluding her from meetings, excluding her from emails, and preventing her from interviewing potential employees.
  • Pao said she reported Nazre's actions and was told "it was unfair, that it would never have happened to a male partner, but that she should just accept it."
  • Senior partner Randy Komisar gave her a book filled with sexual drawings and poems and asked her out to dinner while his wife was out of town.
  • Managing partner Ray Lane allegedly encouraged her to engage in a personal relationship with Nazre and marry him.
  • Male partners excluded female partners from an executives dinner because they would "kill the buzz."
  • A senior partner said "the personalities of women do not lead to the success at KPCB because woman are quiet."

We contacted Kleiner Perkins and will update the story when they get back with comment.

Here's Pao's complaint: