Venture firm Kleiner moves to dismiss discrimination suit

SAN FRANCISCO Wed Jun 13, 2012 9:39pm EDT

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers asked a California state court on Wednesday to dismiss a discrimination lawsuit by partner Ellen Pao, saying it denied "each and every material allegation" made by her.

The suit has become the talk of Silicon Valley, where the digerati are avidly debating its merits -- along with broader questions about sexism in the technology industry.

In contrast to Pao's suit, which described the firm as a place where women were labeled "buzz kills," the response by Kleiner paints a picture of an underperforming partner who never told the firm she was unhappy with her treatment by male partners.

The seven-page response hit back at some of the more salacious claims Pao made in her suit, filed last month. [ID:nL1E8GMBZU] Among them: that the firm gave male-only dinners, and that a managing partner encouraged Pao to marry another partner she believed was harassing her.

But the response didn't go into details on some of Pao's other complaints, including that women got smaller shares of profits at the firm, and that female junior partners got fewer board seats compared to male partners.

A lawyer for Pao didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The firm said Pao didn't complain about the alleged harassment from anytime between 2007, two years after she was hired, until "late 2011/early 2012."

In her suit, Pao had said she raised concerns several times about her treatment by partner Ajit Nazre, including in 2007, in 2008, and 2009. She said she spoke to Kleiner's head of human resources, Juliet de Baubigny; partners such as John Doerr and Ted Schlein; and the firm's outside human-resources consultant.

The firm also provided glimpses of Pao's performance, saying her reviews in 2009, 2010 and 2011 contained both positive and negative feedback. The firm didn't go into the positives, but said one review described her as self-entitled and territorial; another encouraged Pao to provide more "thought leadership."

Pao "did not advance to more senior positions at KPCB as a result of performance flaws identified in her review and other performance issues," Kleiner's response states.

In her suit, Pao said that Kleiner failed to promote women "comparably to men."

In response to her allegation that partner Ray Lane downplayed Pao's concerns after Nazre had pressured her to have sex with him and then retaliated when she broke off the relationship, Kleiner said Lane supported Pao's decision to break off the relationship.

Pao's assertion that Lane suggested she marry Nazre, who left the firm earlier this year, wasn't true, Kleiner said.

Kleiner confirmed that another partner, Randy Komisar, gave Pao a copy of Leonard Cohen's "The Book of Longing," a book Pao's suit described as containing sexual drawings and poetry. But Kleiner said Komisar gave her the gift only after she had given him a book and a Buddha statue.

Pao, who is still working at Kleiner, is on the boards of green-materials company Lehigh Technologies, analytics company Datameer and social-news company Flipboard. Before joining Kleiner, she worked at business-software company BEA Systems and phone-applications company Tellme Networks.

Kleiner Perkins, founded in 1972, has backed firms including online retailer Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O), gaming company Electronic Arts Inc (EA.O), biotechnology company Genentech, browser company Netscape, information-technology company Sun Microsystems, and gaming company Zynga Inc (ZNGA.O).

Its latest fund, the $525 million Kleiner XV, has 10 managing partners, including Chien, Doerr, and Komisar. It also includes just one female managing partner, life-sciences specialist Beth Seidenberg.

Overall, the firm has 49 partners, of whom 12 are women.

(Reporting By Sarah McBride; Editing by Ed Lane)