SAN FRANCISCO, July 20 (Reuters) - A California judge on F riday told venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers LLC he disagreed with its attempt to move an employment discrimination case brought by one of its partners to arbitration, for now keeping one of Silicon Valley’s higher-profile cases in the public eye.
While San Francisco Superior Court Judge Harold Kahn did not issue a formal ruling from the bench at a court hearing, he told Kleiner attorneys they could appeal his decision if they disagreed.
The suit, brought by Ellen Pao in San Francisco state court, has become the talk of the Bay Area, where the digerati are avidly debating its merits - along with broader questions about sexism in the technology industry.
A Kleiner representative did not immediately comment on the ruling.
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 firm sought to move the case to arbitration last month, saying the agreements governing various Kleiner funds mandated it. The firm argued that Pao was knowledgeable about her obligations.
Pao attorney Alan Exelrod has argued that Pao was suing the Kleiner firm itself - not its funds. Pao never signed any arbitration agreements with the firm, Exelrod argued.
But Kleiner attorney Lynne Hermle charged in court on Friday and in a filing on Thursday that Pao was trying to have it both ways, suing the firm for discrimination even after signing agreements that seemingly acknowledged the authority of the funds rather than the firm in key areas.
Kleiner Perkins, founded in 1972, has backed big-name firms such as 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.
The case in Superior Court of the State of California, County of San Francisco is Ellen Pao v Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers LLC and Does 1-20, case no. 12-520719.