By Dan Levine and Sarah McBride
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A former partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers accusing the venture-capital firm of gender discrimination took the witness stand on Monday as her closely watched lawsuit entered a critical phase.
During the first few moments of her testimony, Ellen Pao said she wrote a memo to Kleiner management in 2012 because of "disrespect" the firm had shown toward its female employees, and because it was about to promote three male junior partners, and not women with comparable experience.
However, Kleiner moved forward with those promotions. Pao filed her lawsuit, alleging that she herself was a victim of sex-based bias at the firm, a few months later.
Pao's lawsuit against the firm that backed Google, Amazon and dozens more iconic technology companies helped spark a broad and ongoing discussion about gender in Silicon Valley.
Questioning Pao provides the best opportunity for each side to clinch their arguments, employment lawyers following the trial say. To win, Pao must seem capable, but not defensive, employment lawyers say, while Kleiner's lawyers will try to show she lacked the qualifications to advance without questioning her so harshly they lose the jury's sympathy.
So far, Kleiner's case has tried to tread a fine line between acknowledging that Pao excelled in some areas, such as critical thinking, and arguing that fell short on the leadership and interpersonal skills needed to advance at the firm.
In her lawsuit Pao, now interim chief executive at social news service Reddit, said her standing at Kleiner deteriorated after she ended a brief affair with another partner who later left the firm. Her career was sidelined after he and the firm started retaliating against her, her lawyers have argued.
But some witnesses, including partner and onetime mentor John Doerr, have said her lack of advancement stemmed from subpar performance, not discrimination or retaliation.
The case is Pao v. Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers LLC, CGC-12-520719, in California Superior Court, in the County of San Francisco.
(Reporting by Dan Levine and Sarah McBride)