Kleiner bid for arbitration in sexism suit rebuffed

SAN FRANCISCO, July 9 Mon Jul 9, 2012 7:00pm EDT

SAN FRANCISCO, July 9 (Reuters) - A California judge on Monday tentatively rejected venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers LLC's bid to move a gender discrimination lawsuit brought by one of its own partners into arbitration.

The suit, brought by Ellen Pao in San Francisco state court, 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.

Pao's lawsuit paints a picture of a firm where complaints against harassment went ignored, where a senior partner suggested that marrying the alleged harasser might be the solution to Pao's difficulties, and where women were labeled "buzz" kills.

In response, Kleiner characterized Pao as an underperforming partner who never told the firm she was unhappy with her treatment by male colleagues.

The venture capital firm sought to move the case to arbitration last month, but Judge Harold Kahn denied the request in a brief order on Monday.

"There is no arbitration agreement between plaintiff and defendant," Kahn wrote in his preliminary ruling.

A Kleiner representative could not immediately be reached for comment.

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

A hearing on Kleiner's arbitration request is scheduled for Tuesday morning.