May 22 Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers partner
Ellen Pao is suing the venture capital firm for sexual
harassment and discrimination, according to a lawsuit filed
earlier this month in California Superior Court.
Pao, who joined the firm in 2005, alleges that former
Kleiner partner Ajit Nazre made sexual advances to her and
worked to harm her career once she rebuffed him. Nazre didn't
return a call requesting comment.
She also alleges that the firm engaged in systematic
discrimination against women, for example, allowing female
junior partners fewer board seats and investment sponsorships
compared to male junior partners, and allocating women a smaller
percentage of profits.
"The firm regrets that the situation is being litigated
publicly and had hoped the two parties could have reached
resolution, particularly given Pao's seven-year history with the
firm," said Kleiner spokeswoman Christina Lee.
"Following a thorough independent investigation of the
facts, the firm believes the lawsuit is without merit and
intends to vigorously defend the matter."
TechCrunch first reported the lawsuit.
Venture capital is a clubby, male-dominated world, but
sexual harassment lawsuits are rare.
Pao said when she complained to senior partners about the
inappropriate behavior, including Nazre's failure to include her
in meetings and on email chains, they reacted in a way she found
unsatisfactory. For example, managing partner Ray Lane suggested
she marry Nazre; the firm also asked her to move to the China
Pao also said partner Randy Komisar had engaged in
inappropriate behavior, including giving her an inscribed copy
of Leonard Cohen's "The Book of Longing" one Valentine's Day.
The book contains poetry with sexual content.
Last year, partners at the firm organized two all-male
dinners for select partners, executives at Kleiner-funded
companies, and a few other guests. One of the partners, Chi-Hua
Chien, said women were excluded because they would "kill the
buzz," according to the lawsuit.
Lee said Kleiner was one of the first venture capital firms
to hire women as partners. "The number of women partners at the
firm is one of the highest within the venture capital arena and
the firm has actively supported women in all respects," she
Pao is on the boards of Lehigh Technologies, Datameer and
Flipboard. Before joining Kleiner, she worked at BEA Systems and
Pao married African-American money manager Buddy Fletcher in
2007. Fletcher sued his former firm, Kidder Peabody, for race
discrimination in 1991 and eventually won a settlement.
Kleiner Perkins, founded in 1972, has backed firms including
Amazon.com Inc, Electronic Arts Inc, Genentech,
Netscape, Sun Microsytems, and Zynga Inc.