The woman suing a prestigious Silicon Valley venture capital firm for alleged gender discrimination accepted a generous severance package that gave her a salary, access to her company email and kept her biography on the company website. Yet she immediately started telling people she was abruptly fired and contacting companies to let them know she would no longer be working with them.
An attorney for the firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, questioned Ellen Pao last week about her actions, as she tried to portray the former executive as someone who misrepresented and twisted facts.
“It was the right thing for you,” attorney Lynne Hermle said of Pao’s decision to contact companies to let them know she had been let go.
Pao responded that it was the right thing for the companies. She has said she was abruptly fired after filing her lawsuit alleging gender discrimination at the firm and told to pack her things by the end of the day.
The case has drawn attention to the gender imbalance at venture capital and technology companies that attract high-powered talent from some of the best universities in the nation, but where women are grossly underrepresented.
Pao’s severance package included her salary – $33,000 a month – and set her actual separation date six months in the future.
Hermle questioned why Pao almost immediately posted on an online message board and said on her Kleiner Perkins voicemail message that she had been terminated.
Kleiner Perkins has also said Pao had a history of conflicts with her colleagues that contributed to the firm’s decision to let her go.
Earlier on Thursday, Hermle shared a chart Pao had created listing “resentments” she held against John Doerr, a prominent venture capitalist and senior partner at the firm, a male colleague with whom she had an affair and another male colleague.
Doerr was Pao’s mentor at the firm and has testified that he tried to increase the number of women at Kleiner Perkins.
Among the resentments Pao accused Doerr of was “tolerating incompetence.”
Pao’s attorneys have tried to paint Kleiner Perkins as an old-boys club where their client was subject to boorish behavior by men and denied a seat on a company board and a promotion because she was a woman.
They are seeking $16 million in damages.
The judge presiding over the case ruled late Wednesday that the defense cannot introduce evidence about the alleged financial difficulties of the plaintiff’s husband, who ran a now-bankrupt hedge fund and has been accused of fraud. He has denied the allegations.
The law firm was expected to argue that Alphonse “Buddy” Fletcher’s problems gave Pao a financial motive to sue.
Judge Harold Kahn said the information would create a “sideshow,” wouldn’t help the jury reach a verdict and would intrude on the privacy rights of Pao and Fletcher.
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