A jury has found mostly in favor of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers in a historic lawsuit accusing one of Silicon Valley’s best-known venture capital firms of sex discrimination.
The jury found against Ellen Pao on three out of four claims, including whether her gender was a factor in Kleiner Perkins’s decision not to promote her, according to reporters tweeting from the courtroom Friday.
There was some confusion after the verdict was read, however, because the jury of six men and six women did not reach a sufficient majority on one question: whether Kleiner Perkins retaliated against Pao by terminating her employment after she complained that she was discriminated against.
Pao could still be eligible for damages based on that claim, a Wall Street Journal reporter tweeted.
At least nine of the 12 jurors need to agree on the claim, and only eight of them did so. So the judge sent them back to continue their deliberations, according to reporters in the courtroom.
Still, most of the verdict has gone against Pao, including her central claim that she was discriminated against based on her gender. The verdict will not be final until the jury decides on the claim of retaliation.
The jury has taken two days so far and had to answer more than a dozen separate questions on the verdict form. There was an audible gasp in the courtroom as the first “no” was read by the court clerk, reporters in the courtroom said.
The trial has gripped technology industry watchers for the past month, fueling the debate about gender discrimination in Silicon Valley and shining an often unflattering light on one of tech’s oldest and most successful venture capital companies. Kleiner Perkins had a hand in the formation of Google, Twitter, Amazon.com, Uber and dozens of other high-flying technology companies.
Pao filed her lawsuit two years ago, alleging that she was a victim of sexual discrimination at the firm and that Kleiner Perkins retaliated against her when she complained about her treatment.
A former junior partner at the company, Pao said a pervasive culture of sexism prevented her from being promoted to senior partner, a role in which she would have made far more money.
Kleiner Perkins was run “like a boys club,” Pao’s lawyer reportedly told the jury in closing arguments this week, and “no woman was going to challenge them.”‘
But lawyers for Kleiner Perkins painted a very different picture, and one the jury believed. They portrayed Pao as a resentful, prickly employee who found it hard to get along with her coworkers. The real reason she wasn’t promoted, the firm contended, is that she lacked the experience and the drive to be a top investor.
Pao was seeking up to $16 million in lost wages. Judge Harold Kahn of San Francisco Superior Court, where the case was heard, ruled this week that Pao would also be eligible for punitive damages if the jury concluded she was treated maliciously. That could have increased her damages by a further $144 million, USA Today reported.