SAN FRANCISCO (AP) —A jury was picked Monday to determine whether a venerable Silicon Valley venture capital firm is liable in a sexual discrimination lawsuit or is the victim of a former employee forced out because of poor performance.
The lawsuit filed by Ellen Pao, 45, and the back-and-forth court filings with her former employer Kleiner, Perkins, Caulfield & Byers have rekindled debate over gender and racial bias in Silicon Valley in general and the venture capital sector in particular.
Venture capital firms provide much of the startup funds for tech companies and have a reputation as being even more insular and male-dominated than the companies they help launch.
“This case is a wakeup call,” said longtime Stanford University law professor Deborah Rhode, who teaches gender equity law. “The case has sparked a much-needed debate about gender inequality regardless of its merit.”
An attorney for a Silicon Valley venture capital firm case says the firm has been a leader in recruiting and supporting women in technology.
Lawyer Lynne Hermle, who is representing defendant Kleiner, Perkins, Caulfield & Byers, told jurors Tuesday in her opening statement that plaintiff Ellen Pao was fired because she did not have the skills to succeed as an investing partner.
Pao, a former junior partner at the firm, claims she was denied a promotion because of her gender and then fired after she complained.
Pao’s attorneys argue that she was the victim of a male-dominated culture.
The firm fired Pao in 2012 after she filed her lawsuit. Pao says she was fired because of her discrimination complaints. The firm claims she was fired because of poor performance.
The trial is expected to last four weeks.