An Unconvincing Denial of Gender Discrimination in Silicon Valley
Following Ellen Pao's gender discrimination claims against the Venture Capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the company has responded without addressing many of the harassment claims Pao alleges.
Following Ellen Pao's gender discrimination claims against the Venture Capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the company has responded without addressing many of the harassment claims Pao alleges. The VC firm is denying "each and every material allegation," even though it does not mention each and every allegation. "KPCB vigorously denies that it discriminated against plaintiff, retaliated against plaintiff after she complained about harassment or discrimination, or that it violated its obligation to take reasonable steps to prevent discrimination from occurring," begins the response. Yet, even the parts that directly counter Pao's claim don't do much to convince us that Pao didn't encounter some inappropriate behavior during her time at Kleiner Perkins. Let us count the red flags, shall we?
- The 7-page document never once addresses Ajit Nazre, the man whom Pao says made sexual advances until she relented and "succumbed to Mr. Nazre’s insistence on sexual relations on two or three occasions," as her original claim explains it. Once she ended the relationship, Nazre started a "consistent pattern of retaliation," which lasted five years. He has since left the firm, but still.
- Though the rebuttal addresses Pao's accusation that Randy Komisar, a senior Kleiner partner, gave her Leonard Cohen's The Book of Longing, which includes what Pao considers inappropriate sexy drawings (right), it does not explain why Komisar invited Pao to dinner while his wife was out of town. Pao claims Komisar invited her to a Saturday night meal, specifying his wife would not be there. It seems a strange omission in the claim. And even the explanation for the book doesn't quite explain the situation. "The book was reviewed by The New York Times as 'profound' and having 'exceptional range', and was set to music by famed composer Philip Glass," writes the rebuttal, attempting to show the book as intellectual rather than sexy smut. "The gift of the book occurred after Plaintiff gave Komisar a book and a Buddha statue ... following discussions the two had about Buddhism," it continues. Why choose this book in particular, though?
- As for the discrimination, the firm claims the real reason Pao never made partner had to do with her poor performance. One performance review accused her of being too "territorial" and said others did not "trust her motivations" and that she had "a sense of entitlement." One could call these excuses gendered. A woman is entitled and territorial, a man is confident and strong willed.
- We only get performance reviews for 2009-2011, what about 2008, asks Fortune's Dan Primack. She has worked at Kleiner since 2005. It's possible these "poor reviews" are a part of the retaliation, especially if we don't get to see the earlier stuff.
- The response also claims Pao "failed to execute a reasonable degree of skill in performing her job duties." "Then why did she get to stay?" wonders Primack. Perhaps to keep up that female-friendly reputation the firm has cultivated? Kleiner, at least by the numbers, is lady-friendly, with what TechCrunch called a "healthy" number of females in leadership poistions. KPCB has the highest ratio of female investors — 10 out of 44 — compared to any other VC firm.
Update June 15, 8:00 a.m.: The current statement did not intend to address each and every claim Pao made against the firm. "KPCB’s response is a general denial permitted by California law and is not intended to be a line by line rebuttal of Pao’s complaint. That exercise will take place as part of the legal process," Amanda Duckworth, one of the lawyers representing KCPB told The Atlantic Wire over e-mail. "The specific allegations denied, which are examples to illustrate the overall absence of merit in the complaint, are facts which support KPCB’s affirmative defenses," she wrote. Still, it is interesting to note the instances the document chose to address and the defenses used.
Image via Shutterstock by Becky Stares