Closing arguments for the high-profile discrimination case filed by venture capitalist Ellen Pao against prominent Silicon Valley blue chip investment firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers have ended.
After a month-long period listening to testimonies from both sides, a six-man and six-woman jury has started their deliberations, the focal point of which is to answer whether the firm's discriminatory culture against women was the reason why she was passed over for promotion to senior partner and fired when she started to complain about it, or whether her termination was the result of her poor performance during her time at the firm.
Four weeks of arguments have painted a picture of an all-boys club that is not as accustomed to promoting women who aggressively go for higher positions as they are used to handing the reward to men who share the trait. Pao herself vocally expressed her interest in a senior partnership position from the beginning.
Her legal team framed their arguments around important company dinners that leave out the women because they "kill the buzz," being subjected to discussions about porn in a company plane, and alleged sexual harassment involving other women who did not appear in court. Pao also says she received a most inappropriate gift of an erotic poetry book.
In her last performance review, which Pao says was fabricated to fit the firm's goal to push her out, Pao was described as being too aggressive and unable to work with others, a factor that was taken as a negative point against her even though male junior partners who were described similarly were promoted.
"Men were judged by one standard and women by another," Alan Exelrod, Pao's attorney, said. "The leaders of Kleiner Perkins are the ones responsible for this double standard."
But Lynn Hermle, representing Kleiner Perkins, said Pao was not promoted because she was not qualified for the position. However, instead of showing evidence of Pao's alleged incompetence, Hermle went on to say that she was greedy and that the reason why she filed the lawsuit was money.
"The complaints of Ellen Pao were made for only one purpose - a huge payout for team Ellen," Hermle said.
Hermle finished her closing argument with a picture that is so different from what Pao claims, one that has John Doerr, Pao's manager at Kleiner Perkins, sounding like the victim and Pao the attacker.
"Think about the irony - Ellen has made the most public of claims, attacking him and his colleagues in a host of wrongdoing - fraudulent reviews, excluding women from events, giving her a prize-winning poetry book - as you recall, she met with reporters she described as her friends after filing the lawsuit," Hermle said. "Her lawyers talked to the press. She's made a determined, deliberate, sustained attack on Kleiner, and she made sure the press knew all about it."
Pao's side tried to establish that the firm's reviews of her performance radically changed after she filed a complaint in 2011, which Kleiner Perkins did not deny. The question now, however, is whether Pao's failing grade for senior partnership was due to her complaint or her performance. The burden is on Pao to prove that she was not promoted and, in 2012, fired because of discrimination.
Whether Pao wins the case or not, the lawsuit has already had a huge impact on Silicon Valley at a time when the technology industry is grappling with how the "brogrammer" culture is contributing to the lack of women in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) industry. Women in technology have long complained about the lack of equality that manifests itself in lower pay for the same work, lack of promotion, and routine harassments, and Pao v. Kleiner Perkins has already led to similar discrimination suits against Facebook and Twitter. More are expected to follow as we await the decision of the jury.
"Even before there's a verdict in this case, and regardless of what the verdict is, people in Silicon Valley are now talking," says Kelly Dermody, managing partner at Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein. "People are second-guessing and questioning whether there are exclusionary practices [and] everyday subtle acts of exclusion that collectively limit women's ability to succeed or even to compete for the best opportunities. And that's an incredibly positive impact."