She opened the door. Uh oh.
That’s what I thought on Tuesday as Ellen Pao answered the final question from her attorney, as part of her gender discrimination suit against venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. (transcript per Re/Code):
Attorney: “You are currently the interim CEO of Reddit. Why have you continued this lawsuit?”
Pao: “It’s been a long journey, and I’ve tried many times to bring Kleiner Perkins to the right path. I think there should be equal opportunities for women and men to be venture capitalists. I wanted to be a VC, but I wasn’t able to do so in that environment. And I think it’s important as a person who wanted to be a venture capitalist but wasn’t able for people who want to be a venture capitalist to make those opportunities available in the future. And I wanted to make sure my story was told.”
This wasn’t a question nor answer about Pao’s alleged experiences of gender discrimination or retaliation while at Kleiner. It was about her motive in pursuing the case, beyond basic law and order. It also was quite eloquent and, I would think, the sort of thing that jurors wouldn’t forget.
The only trouble is that there is an alternate, much less noble, theory for why Pao has continued to pursue this case. Namely, that she may be in financial straights due to the various failed business dealings of her hedge fund manager husband, Alphonse “Buddy” Fletcher. To get a general sense of Buddy’s various entanglements, here is some of what pops up when you search for him in a national court records database.
On Wednesday, Kleiner’s lead attorney asked to enter some of those bankruptcy filings into evidence, plus an alleged tax lien on Pao’s ongoing partnership interests in Kleiner funds. The judge had long ago ruled none of it was admissible, but that was before Pao had volunteered her own motive.
This was where my “uh oh” arrived. Was Pao about to go from heroic victim to something much less savory?
The judge said he would consider it. Late that night, he issued a ruling that kept Pao’s personal finances off-limits, arguing that such information would improperly bias the jury, and that it would infringe on Pao and Fletcher’s husband-wife privacy rights.
I understand the judge’s concerns about bias. Less so about privacy, at least on the already-public bankruptcy filings. Overall, however, I think he erred.
To be sure, the jury should only decide for or against Pao based on whether or not it believes she was discriminated against on the basis of her gender. But she chose to expand the scope by offering up a broader motive, at the prompting of her own attorney.
Kleiner certainly can challenge her accusations of discrimination — and has been doing so vigorously — but has been left no real way to question her stated motive. And, given that Pao’s statement of purpose was one of the trial’s most poignant moments, the judge’s ruling seems to have put Kleiner at an artificial disadvantage.
THE BIG DEAL
• Leonard Green & Partners and TPG Capital have agreed to acquire health club chain Life Time Fitness Inc. (NYSE: LTM) for more than $4 billion, or $72.10 per share in cash. The company’s stock closed at $41.60 on Aug. 22, 2014 – which was the final day of trading before the company announced that it was considering strategic alternatives for its real estate assets. www.lifetimefitness.com
VENTURE CAPITAL DEALS
• Blue Pillar, a Frederick, Md.-based provider of software for increasing “real time visibility and control into distributed energy assets,” has raised $14 million in new VC funding. EnerTech Capital led the round, and was joined by the Maryland Venture Fund and return backers Allos Ventures, Arsenal Venture Partners and Claremont Creek Ventures. www.bluepillar.com
• Reltio, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup that wants to bring dig data apps to healthcare, has raised $10 million in Series A funding from Crosslink Capital and .406 Ventures. www.reltio.com
• ThinkCERCA, a Chicago-based provider of web-based academic reading and writing instruction, has raised $3.2 million in Series A funding. Follett Knowledge Fund led the round, and was joined by Math Venture Partners, Amicus Capital, Great Oaks Venture Capital and Chuck Templeton. www.ThinkCERCA.com
• Clear Flight Solutions, a Dutch developer of bird-like drones, has raised €1.6 million in funding from The Cottonwood Euro Technology Fund. www.clearflightsolutions.com
• Feetz, a Chattanooga, Tenn.-based maker of customizable footwear via 3D printing, has raised $1.25 million in seed funding. Khosla Ventures led the round, and was joined by JumpFund and former Reebok CEO Uli Becker. www.feetz.co
• BetterIt Communications, a Denver-based provider of a mobile SaaS platform for “collaborative problem solving and value creation,” has raised an undisclosed amount of seed funding from Redwood Capital Ventures at a $3 million valuation.
• IdentityMind Global, a Palo Alto, Calif.–based risk management platform for ecommerce and regulatory compliance, has raised an undisclosed amount of equity funding led by Lakewood & Co. www.identitymindglobal.com
PRIVATE EQUITY DEALS
• ARX Equity Partners has acquired Diagnosticni Center Bled, the largest private healthcare service provider in Slovenia. No financial terms were disclosed. www.dc-bled.si
• Borealis Infrastructure Management, Första AP-Fonden and Tredje AP-Fonden have agreed to acquire Fortum Distribution AB, the Swedish electricity distribution networks for Fortum, for approximately €6.6 billion. Read more.
• KKR, Varde Partners and Deutsche Bank have agreed to buy the Australian and New Zealand consumer lending arm of GE Capital for A$8.2 billion. Read more.
• RedOwl Analytics, a New York-based security analytics firm, has raised an undisclosed amount of funding from The Blackstone Group. www.redowlanalytics.com
• Versa Capital Management has been named the winning bidder in the bankruptcy auction for the business of apparel retailer Wet Seal Inc. Read more.
• YeePay, a Chinese payments services provider, has raised an undisclosed amount of private equity funding from TA Associates and Far East Horizon Ltd. (HK: 3360). www.yeepay.com
• Cidara Therapeutics Inc., a San Diego-based developer of immunotherapies to treat fungal and other infections, has filed for a $69 million IPO. It plans to trade on the Nasdaq under ticker symbol CDTX, with Jefferies and Leerink Partners serving as lead underwriters. The pre-revenue company has raised around $74 million in VC funding, from firms like 5AM Ventures (22.1% pre-IPO stake), Fidelity Investments (14.2%), InterWest Partners (12.7%) and Frazier Healthcare (12.2%). www.cidara.com
• Coyote Logistics LLC, a Chicago-based provider of transportation and shipping services, is preparing an IPO that could value the company at more than $2 billion (including debt), according to the WSJ. The company has been owned by Warburg Pincus since 2007. Read more.
• Legend Holdings, a Chinese conglomerate with large tech and real estate holdings, is prepping a Hong Kong IPO for this July that could raise upwards of $3 billion, according to the WSJ. Legend is the largest shareholder in PC maker Lenovo Group. Read more.
• Charlesbank Capital Partners and HGGC have agreed to sell Citadel Plastics Holdings, a Chicago-based provider of thermoplastic and engineered composite compounds, to A.Schulman (Nasdaq: SHLM). The $800 million sales price represents around a 10.6x multiple on the company’s 2014 EBITDA. www.citadelplastics.com
• Cheetah Mobile (NYSE: CMCM) has agreed to acquire MobPartner, a Paris-based mobile advertising startup, for approximately $58 million. MobPartner had raised just over $3 million in VC funding from firms like Alven Capital and Newfund. Read more.
• North Castle Partners and Glencoe Capital have sold Flatout Inc., a Saline, Mich.–based maker of flatbreads and flatbread products, to T. Marzetti Co., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Lancaster Colony Corp. (Nasdaq: LANC), for $92 million in cash. www.flatoutbread.com
Riverside Partners has agreed to sell ITC Global, a St. Petersburg, Fla.–based provider of satellite communication services for the energy, mining and maritime markets, to Panasonic Corp. No financial terms were disclosed. www.itcglobal.net
• Virgin America (Nasdaq: VA), a Burlingame, Calif.-based air carrier, has filed for a secondary offering of around 4.82 million shares, which would be valued at nearly $169 million as of last Friday’s closing trades. Barclays and Deutsche Bank are serving as lead underwriters. No word yet on selling shareholder information. Current backers include PAR Investment Partners (6.2% ownership stake). www.virginamerica.com
• ZS Pharma Inc. (Nasdaq: ZSPH), a Fort Worth, Texas-based developer of treatments for kidney and liver disease, has filed for a $150 million secondary public offering. J.P. Morgan and Credit Suisse are serving as lead underwriters. No word yet on selling shareholder information. Current backers include Alta Partners (15.46% ownership stake), Fidelity Investments (13.75%), Devon Park Bioventures (12.38%) and 3×5 Special Opportunity Partners (7.19%). www.zspharma.com
• Code and Theory, a New York-based marketing agency, has acquired Drupal agency Mediacurrent for an undisclosed amount. www.codeandtheory.com
• Edgewater Technology Inc. (Nasdaq: EDGW) has acquired Zero2Ten Inc., an Alpharetta, Ga.-based Microsoft Dynamics CRM partner. No financial terms were disclosed. www.zero2ten.com
MOVING IN, UP, ON & OUT
• Credit Suisse is naming Robin Rankin and Greg Weinberger as co-heads of global M&A., according to the NY Times. Former head Scott Lindsay will become chairman of global M&A. Read more.
• Martin Lindh and Thorsten Madsen have joined Denmark-based Polaris Private Equity as investments managers. Lindh previously was with SEB, while Madsen was with Implement Consulting Group. www.polarisequity.dk
• Paola Maleh has joined EQT Partners as a UK-based managing director of investor relations. She previously was head of EMEA marketing and investor relations for Silver Lake. www.eqt.se
• Scripps Networks Interactive (NYSE: SNI) has agreed to acquire a majority stake in Polish broadcaster TVN (Warsaw: TVN) for €584 million. Read more.
• Z Capital Partners, an Illinois-based private equity firm, has made several new hires: Dennis Roberts, former founder of Human Capital Strategies, has joined as a managing director and operating partner; Jeffrey Werner, former CEO of two Sun Capital portfolio companies, has joined as a managing director and operating partner; Andrew Curstis, former portfolio manager with Mercer Parkers, has joined as a managing director; Elias Silverman, former restructuring associate with The Blackstone Group, has joined as a director; and Taylor Webb, formerly an attorney with Chapman Cutler, has joined as an associate and corporate counsel. www.zcap.net
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