In 2012, Ellen Pao filed a $16 million dollar law suit against one of the largest venture capital firms in Silicon Valley, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. The decision was a sweeping victory for the Silicon Valley venture capital firm, for Ellen Pao was awarded no money.
Her suit claimed that Kleiner allegedly refused her promotion because of her gender and retaliated against her complaint of failure to promote by firing her in 2012. The jury immediately dismissed four of her claims and then deliberated hard about the last claim dealing with her termination. However, the deliberation ultimately came down to jury confusion rather than skepticism of the defendant’s claims.
Ms. Pao’s lawyers closed with an urge to take the “consciousness of this community” into account when deliberating about a verdict. In other words, they wanted the jury to think about the effect the decision will have on female empowerment in the business world, specifically Silicon Valley. The jury, however, rightly denied consent to this admonition, and instead, focused on the facts at hands. They found that it was Ms. Pao’s performance that held her back, and ultimately led to her termination.
The Court decision and the case itself have been the topic of much heated debate in the press and media. Many are thrilled with the jury’s decision, hoping to protect the exploitation of the legal system, by gaining an unfair advantage and striking fear in the hearts of employers for gender discrimination. Others see the decision as a defeat and a step backwards for the woman’s movement in Silicon Valley. It is true that Silicon Valley is a male dominated conglomerate of tech junkies. But it is also true that companies are taking pain staking efforts to ameliorate the lack of diversity present in Silicon Valley. How you interpret the ruling will ultimately come down to beliefs, values, and tastes.