Venture capitalist says he tried to prevent firing of woman

AP News
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Posted: Mar 04, 2015 7:56 PM

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A prominent senior partner at a Silicon Valley venture capital firm testified Wednesday that he was a loyal supporter of a woman who is now suing the company for sex discrimination.

Billionaire John Doerr took the witness stand for a second day in the lawsuit alleging women were denied chances to advance at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and treated as second-class citizens.

The lawsuit was filed by Ellen Pao, who says she was denied a chance to advance because she is a woman and was fired in 2012 after she complained.

The case has sparked debate over the treatment of women in the high-tech and venture capital fields, which are dominated by men.

In response to questions from jurors, Doerr described the venture capital community as a competitive, male-dominated field but said it didn't explicitly push women away.

He said he has worked hard to increase the number of women in venture capital and technology because diversity leads to better decisions.

"I don't advocate for women out of a sense of social justice," he said.

Pao's attorney, Alan Exelrod, has argued that Kleiner Perkins had a male-dominated culture.

The lawyer played a recording in court Wednesday of Doerr speaking at a venture capital association meeting and saying all great Internet companies seem to be founded by "white, male nerds who dropped out of Harvard or Stanford" and have no social life.

Later, under questioning by Kleiner Perkins attorney Lynne Hermle, Doerr said only two of the 80 or so companies he has invested in were led by white males who had dropped out of Harvard or Stanford and had degrees in computer science.

Doerr, a member of the Kleiner Perkins management team, also testified that he fought for Pao to stay with the company and objected when other partners wanted to let her go in 2011.

"Ellen is very talented," he said. "I felt that she ought to have another shot."

Doerr said he provided Pao with two coaches, including a speech coach, to help improve her skills, but she continued to have problems.

In a job review previously presented in court, Doerr said Pao needed to improve her interpersonal skills and not be dismissive of peers who don't meet her expectations, though he otherwise praised her performance in her first year as his chief of staff.

In that position, Pao wrote letters and speeches, among other duties, for Doerr before becoming a junior partner in 2010 with full-time investment duties.

The firm has denied wrongdoing and says Pao, 45, didn't get along with her colleagues — a requirement for the junior partner position — and performed poorly in that role.

Doerr is among the most prominent venture capitalists in Silicon Valley in part for helping direct early investments in Amazon and Google after joining Kleiner Perkins in 1980. He sits on Google's board and served on boards that advised President Barack Obama about economic policy. His net worth is estimated at $3.5 billion by Forbes.

A study released last year by Babson College in Massachusetts found that women filled just 6 percent of the partner-level positions at 139 venture capital firms in 2013, down from 10 percent in 1999.

Doerr said 20 percent of partners at Kleiner Perkins are women.

Pao is seeking $16 million in damages. The firm is seeking to limit any possible damages by arguing that Pao is well-compensated in her current position as interim CEO of the popular social media company Reddit.