Ellen Pao Was Not Discriminated Against by Kleiner Perkins, Jury Finds

Weeks of courtroom testimony led the jury to bring down the verdict on Friday.

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Mar 27 2015, 9:15pm

​Ellen Pao outside the courthouse on February 24, 2015. Image: Associated Press

One of Silicon Valley's biggest venture capital firms has been found not culpable of gender discrimination in a suit launched by Ellen Pao, a former junior partner.

The jury in the case against KPCB (which made its name backing early internet heavy-hitters including Google and Amazon) brought down its verdict Friday afternoon after soaking in more than a month's worth of testimony. 

Though at first there was some confusion over the vote count, after a few more hours of deliberation, the jury ultimately decided that Pao's gender was not a factor in her not being promoted and ultimately being fired from KPCB. The jury voted against each of the claims Pao (now the interim CEO of Reddit) had made against her former employer. 

The case was closely watched in Silicon Valley as a watershed moment that was finally bringing to light whisperings of sexism, gender discrimination, and a "bro" culture in the tech Mecca. Though other lawsuits had been filed in the past, most had been settled out of court, ​making this case remarkable from the starting gate. It also didn't take long for the case to spur ​other women in tech to speak out.

Even without the looming questions about the treatment of women in the tech industry, the case was notable in its own right. From the start, the jury heard about gifted books of dirty poems, dudes-only ski trips, an affair between Pao and a married colleague, and a senior partner showing up at female coworker's hotel room in nothing but a bathrobe.

Pao's lawyer argued there was a toxic atmosphere at KPCB that held women back while propping up male partners. KPCB's lawyer argued Pao had an entitlement problem and the company is one of the few VC firms that actually do support women, bringing ​female employees on the stand to testify about its empowering environment. 

It was a dense case with a lot of compelling evidence on both sides. 

Regardless of Pao's loss, champions of equality in the tech industry celebrated the fact that it ​even went to trial at all. In the months to come, as other suits head to court, it will start to indicate how accountable companies will be held for their behavior. 

Some have argued that this will only scare companies away from hiring women in the first place, lest they get accused of unfair treatment and be forced to pay out.

Given how rarely women are hired in Silicon Valley to begin with, it's a troublesome thought. But others are more confident the case is a sign of changing tides, opening the door for other women to speak up and level the playing field in one of the country's most competitive industries.