SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A prominent Silicon Valley venture capitalist who helped direct early investments in Google and Amazon testified Tuesday in a high-profile sex discrimination lawsuit that his firm is not run by men.
John Doerr took the stand in San Francisco Superior Court in the lawsuit against venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers — a case that has sparked debate over the treatment of women in the high-tech and venture capitalist fields.
The plaintiff, Ellen Pao, claims she was denied a promotion in the male-dominated culture of the company because she is a woman and was fired in 2012 after she complained.
Doerr — a billionaire and partner at the firm, which counts former Vice President Al Gore among its partners — testified that Kleiner Perkins has many female senior partners.
Pao initially worked as Doerr’s chief of staff before becoming a junior partner with full-time investment duties.
During opening statements, her attorney, Alan Exelrod, said Pao wrote many of Doerr’s letters and speeches, and had received a glowing review from him when she was contacted about another job opportunity.
The attorney also said Doerr wanted to fire one of Pao’s married male colleagues after learning he and Pao had had an affair and that Doerr was aware Pao had received a book of erotic poetry from a senior partner that she found inappropriate.
Asked Tuesday about the book of poetry, Doerr said Pao did not tell him the nature of the book and did not seem upset by it. She was emphatic that her affair with the male colleague was in the past and not a problem, he said.
The firm has denied wrongdoing and says Pao, 45, was a poor performer who didn’t get along with her colleagues.
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.
Women hold 15 to 20 percent of the technology jobs at tech giants Google, Apple, Facebook and Yahoo, according to disclosures by the companies.
Venture capital firms are even more slanted toward men. 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.
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 and hasn’t suffered financially since leaving Kleiner after filing her lawsuit.