Woman in Silicon Valley bias suit faces tough jury questions

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 13, 2015 7:07 AM

By Dan Levine

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A former Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers partner who has sued the venture firm for gender discrimination faced tough questions on Friday from jurors about her communication skills, a decision to have an affair with a fellow partner, and other issues.

Ellen Pao was quizzed by jurors on some of the central issues in the trial which has helped sparked a broad discussion about gender in Silicon Valley after four days of questions from lawyers.

Pao has testified that a lawsuit was her only way to help women advance at the venture capital firm.

Kleiner, meanwhile, attempted to portray her as a divisive figure at the firm whose lawsuit had a primarily financial motivation. Kleiner has displayed several emails from Pao to her partners, including one where she told them they shouldn't act like "an asshole" in meetings with tech entrepreneurs.

"Do you think your manner of communicating was professional?" asked one juror.

"I would say 99.999 percent of the time I was very professional," Pao said, adding that she perhaps should have used the word "jerk" in that note.

Kleiner is best known for backing Amazon.com Inc, Google Inc, and other well-known technology companies.

Pao has acknowledged a brief affair she had with a colleague, and says he then began keeping her out of important meetings after she broke off their personal relationship.

One juror asked if it was "professional to enter into affair with married partner?"

"Going back I would not have done it again, but I didn't think it was inappropriate at the time," Pao said, adding that the man told her he was separated.

At least 37 states, including California, permit jurors to pose their own questions in civil cases once the lawyers are done, according to the American Judicature Society. Many states leave it up to the trial judge to decide whether to do so.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Harold Kahn asked jurors to submit questions to him in writing. After conferring with the attorneys, Kahn read them to Pao from the bench.

Another juror asked why Pao remained at Kleiner for several months in 2012 after she filed her lawsuit.

"I'm an optimist," Pao said. "I was always hopeful that at some point John [Doerr] would step in and manage the culture," said Pao, referring to Kleiner senior partner John Doerr.

Pao said she hoped Doerr would "clean it up."

(Reporting by Dan Levine; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Christian Plumb)