March 10, 2015 / 1:39 PM / 3 years ago

Kleiner ex-partner Pao testifies in Silicon Valley bias case

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A former partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers accusing the venture-capital firm of gender discrimination testified on Monday that she urged firm leaders to improve human relations policies after learning that three administrative assistants had allegedly complained about harassment.

Ellen Pao walks to San Francisco Superior Court in San Francisco, California March 3, 2015. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

Ellen Pao said those rumors led her to tell senior partners in 2007 about a brief affair she had with a colleague, who then began keeping her out of important meetings after she broke off their personal relationship.

Pao said she told Kleiner leaders, including senior partners Ray Lane and John Doerr, that the firm’s HR policies were too “loosey-goosey.” However, those policies were not improved after her complaints, she said.

Pao’s lawsuit against the firm that backed Google, Amazon and dozens more iconic technology companies helped spark a broad and ongoing discussion about gender in Silicon Valley.

Questioning Pao provides the best opportunity for each side to clinch their arguments, employment lawyers following the trial say. To win, Pao must seem capable, but not defensive, employment lawyers say, while Kleiner’s lawyers will try to show she lacked the qualifications to advance without questioning her so harshly they lose the jury’s sympathy.

So far, Kleiner’s case has tried to tread a fine line between acknowledging that Pao excelled in some areas, such as critical thinking, and arguing that she fell short on the leadership and interpersonal skills needed to advance at the firm.

By 2012, Pao had raised concerns about a wider pattern of gender discrimination at Kleiner. She sued the firm that year.

In court on Monday, Pao responded to questions from her attorney in an even tone, with the occasional smile. She said Lane encouraged her to have lunch with Ajit Nazre so they could try to continue working together despite the affair.

At that lunch, Pao said Nazre told her he still loved her. “I got out as fast as I could, and he followed me to the car,” she said.

Still, Pao said she urged Doerr not to fire Nazre.

Pao said she aired other critiques of Kleiner in 2007, including that the firm often treated tech entrepreneurs disrespectfully, arriving late to meetings and dismissively suggesting that their companies be broken up.

Pao offered her colleagues advice in a memo: “Don’t be an asshole.”

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