Former Kleiner partner seeks $16 million in discrimination lawsuit

Courtesy of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers

(Reuters) – Ellen Pao, a former partner at prominent Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, is seeking $16 million for discrimination and retaliation in a lawsuit against the firm, a Kleiner attorney said in court.

The suit, filed in 2012, accuses the firm of holding her back from a promotion and better compensation after she complained about harassment by a male partner. The case helped spark a broad and ongoing discussion in Silicon Valley about sexism.

Kleiner has denied the accusations of discrimination and retaliation, along with accusations that it did not take reasonable steps to prevent discrimination.

At a hearing in San Francisco Superior Court on Monday, Kleiner attorney Lynne Hermle publicly disclosed the amount of damages sought for the first time. Hermle also said both sides have attempted to mediate the dispute.

“To say it was nonproductive would be an understatement,” Hermle said.

Monday’s hearing dealt in part with the issue of the valuation and ownership breakdown of Reddit, the social news site, where Pao currently works as interim chief executive officer. Knowing those details is key to establishing any damages that may have arisen from lost compensation at Kleiner, Hermle argued.

Sarah Tauman, an attorney for Reddit, said her client would be willing to provide the latest internal valuation of the company, but didn’t want to provide further information such as the ownership breakdown, which would include Pao’s share. Private companies like Reddit generally strive to keep those details confidential.

Judge Ernest Goldsmith gave Tauman until Thursday to file arguments on Reddit’s position.

In a separate hearing Monday, Judge Peter Catalanotti ruled that Pao’s lawyers can question Amanda Duckworth, a public relations representative for Kleiner Perkins, but must limit the questions to issues such as Duckworth’s communications with third parties on Pao’s employment and communications.

Catalanotti also ruled that Pao’s lawyers can question former partner Aileen Lee if they limit the questions to Pao’s employment, termination, and communications with an outside discrimination expert Kleiner hired, Stephen Hirschfeld.

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