March 3, 2015 / 5:07 PM / 4 years ago

Venture capitalist John Doerr to testify in sexism case

SAN FRANCISCO, March 3 (Reuters) - Venture capitalist John Doerr, credited with backing Inc, Google Inc and many other technology companies, is set to testify on Tuesday in a gender discrimination trial involving his firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

Doerr, viewed as the firm’s leader, is likely to discuss his treatment of former partner Ellen Pao, his chief of staff before she joined the firm’s digital team and then suing the firm in 2012. Whether Kleiner failed to support women as much as men is a key point of contention in the case, which has helped spark an ongoing discussion about sexism in Silicon Valley.

In the suit, Pao alleges she suffered discrimination and retaliation after ending a brief 2006 affair with another partner, Ajit Nazre.

She told senior partner Ray Lane about the affair in 2007, saying she could put it behind her and work with Nazre.

Nazre was promoted to senior partner in 2008 and the situation worsened, she has said in filings. Pao says other partners eventually engaged in discriminatory conduct too, leading her to miss out on a key promotion.

The firm has vehemently denied Pao’s allegations. Kleiner’s lawyer, Lynne Hermle, said in court last week that the firm treated women fairly and didn’t promote Pao because she lacked talent.

“She did not come close,” to the qualifications needed to take on a more senior role, Hermle said.

But Pao’s attorney, Alan Exelrod, said the firm systematically failed to promote women to senior investing partner. He said Pao excelled at her work, including lining up patent firm RPX as an investment. The company raised $160 million in an initial public offering just three years after Kleiner’s investment.

“Was there a level playing field for Ellen Pao at Kleiner Perkins?” Exelrod said to the jury. “We will prove to you in this case that there was not.”

Doerr, 63, joined Kleiner Perkins in 1980 after years working at Intel. He is known for championing green energy, an area with a mixed track record for the firm. Successes like Nest Labs, the thermostat company bought by Google for $3.2 billion last year, have been tempered by disappointments such as the bankruptcy of hybrid automaker Fisker.

The case is Pao v. Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers LLC, CGC-12-520719, in California Superior Court, in the County of San Francisco. (Editing by Christian Plumb)

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