SAN FRANCISCO – The woman suing a prestigious Silicon Valley venture capital firm for $16 million for alleged discrimination was hit with tough questions from jurors Friday such as whether colleagues saw her as a difficult personality who needed to get in the last word and whether she thought it was inappropriate to conduct an affair with a male co-worker.
Dozens of written juror questions, read by the judge, elicited some of Ellen Pao’s most expansive answers during her five days of testimony. She was asked about criticism in a performance review that she cancelled a meeting and failed to set up a follow-up meeting with the right people. During that time, she said in a shaking voice, she had to be hospitalized and suffered a miscarriage.
“Litigation is painful and difficult,” Pao said in response to another question. “This has been three years of my life…it’s dragged in my friends.”
But Pao said she was forced to sue because the firm of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers otherwise showed no inclination to improve the environment for women at the firm.
Pao’s attorneys have tried to paint Kleiner Perkins as an old-boys club where their client was subject to boorish behaviour by men and denied a seat on a company board and a promotion because she was a woman. They say she was fired when she complained.
Kleiner Perkins has tried to portray Pao as someone who misrepresented and twisted facts. They say Pao had a history of conflicts with her colleagues that contributed to the firm’s decision to let her go.
Kleiner Perkins’ attorney, Lynne Hermle, presented evidence on Thursday that Pao 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.
Pao’s affair with the male colleague has figured prominently in the case.
Pao has said the male colleague pursued her relentlessly, and she entered into the affair after he told her his wife had left him. She said she broke it off after she learned he had lied, but he then retaliated against her, and the firm did nothing to stop it.
“Going back I would not have done it again,” she said of the affair. “I didn’t think it was inappropriate at the time.”
Pao was asked about her use of an epithet in an email to a senior partner. She clarified that the epithet was not directed at the senior partner and was not meant to be disrespectful. She said that she only was trying to say people at the firm should not be “jerks” to entrepreneurs who sought the firm’s money.
California judges allow jurors to put written questions to witnesses. San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Harold Kahn praised the Kleiner Perkins jury’s questions to Pao, saying they reflected the jury’s “conscientious participation in the case.”