Sexual Harassment Allegations at Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers: All of Silicon Valley Is Watching

When 42-year-old Ellen Pao leveled sexual harassment allegations against the senior partners at venture capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers, Silicon Valley insiders were stunned.

Pao says Kleiner prevented her and other women from advancing in the company. The gender discrimination accusations shocked local tavern owner, Jamis MacNiven, who runs a popular bar in Silicon Valley. He said Kleiner had an “impeccable reputation” and that his experience was that the people in the firm were “the most normal people in the world.”

Pao’s harassment case is notable for many reasons:

• Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers is one of the largest and most respected VC firms in the world. Notables like Colin Powell and Al Gore serve as senior partners;
• The firm made billions by investing in computer companies and other technologies;
• Kliener’s clients have included Amazon, Google, and other behemoths;
• Pao’s difficult and embarrassing allegations about the inside workings of the firm may have already damaged the company’s multi-billion dollar brand.

According to the lawsuit, Pao says she endured harassment for five years at the firm. A man named Ajit Nazre played a pivotal, dramatic role. Nazre and Pao started with the firm as junior partners – as peers. Nazre ultimately won a promotion to senior partner. In that capacity, he allegedly harassed Pao by boxing her out of critical meetings, leaving her off important e-mail chains, etc. Pao said that she complained to other partners, but the higher-ups ignored the harassment and/or joined in her ostracism.

Curiously, Nazre and Pao had “two or three” sexual encounters prior to their work-related difficulties. Pao says that Nazre started to act cruel to her after she broke up with him.

According to insiders who have scoured the testimony, the court records are replete with nasty accusations and counter-accusations. Pao’s bosses called her a poor performer. They say that they passed her over for promotion due to lack of merit not due to gender bias. Pao, who holds a law degree from Harvard and an engineering degree from Princeton, has unsurprisingly disputed this characterization.

According to Deborah Rhode, a Stanford University professor who analyzes sexual harassment cases, Pao’s situation is “a garden variety of sex harassment case” that’s ginned up media attention for two reasons:

1) Silicon Valley has a reputation as a “male-dominated culture”;
2) Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers is an enormous and prestigious firm.

Interestingly, Pao’s husband, Alphonse “Buddy” Fletcher, Jr., is currently embroiled in a racial discrimination lawsuit in New York with the owners of the Dakota Apartments. Fletcher had been living with a same-sex partner for a decade. He then split up with him and married Pao. Together, Fletcher and Pao have a 3-year-old daughter.

Implications for Your Sexual Harassment Or Racial Discrimination Case?

If you or someone you love has been struggling with workplace sexual harassment, the experienced and compassionate team at Joseph & Kirschenbaum would be happy to provide a free and confidential case evaluation for you. Call us at (212) 688-5640 to get help today.