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Ellen Pao: 'I Wanted to Make Sure My Story Was Told'

Pao said her suit against Kleiner Perkins is about getting her gender-discrimination concerns heard.

Courtroom sketch by Vicki Behringer.

In a measured voice, Ellen Pao today gave an impassioned call to arms for opportunities for women in venture capital, as she testified in her gender discrimination and retaliation suit against her former employer, famed VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers.

Pao’s lawyer, Therese Lawless, asked her why she filed this lawsuit.

Pao replied, “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,” she said. “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 to make those opportunities available in the future. And I wanted to make sure my story was told.”

Pao, who alleges that the firm discriminated against her and then fired her for complaining, has exposed the raw, often ugly innards of the firm to public scrutiny. She used her testimony to establish that she had repeatedly raised concerns about the Kleiner Perkins culture, complained about her treatment by former partner Ajit Nazre, and asked for HR training and policies. Her time on the stand over the past two days has been as much about her memories as how she came across personally. Was she “kind of a downer,” which according to one witness was how people at Kleiner Perkins referred to her?

On the stand, Pao was poised. She was assertive and confident, if sometimes too well rehearsed. And when she had the opportunity to speak her mind, she took it. Many have asked why Pao didn’t settle, and her statements on the stand served to answered that: “I wanted to make sure my story was actually heard.”

We’ve been liveblogging her testimony and will continue to do so, but below is a summary of what’s new and interesting from the first half of Pao’s time on the stand. We’ll come back with another summary after the cross-examination.

Doerr Had the Female Partners Make a List of Their Equality Concerns at the Firm — And Then Did Nothing With It

At one particular (now notorious) 2011 Kleiner Perkins offsite meeting, senior partner Ray Lane asked Trae Vassallo to take notes. She was already upset over being seated in the back of the meeting. Vassallo said no to Lane and was clearly offended. He then asked Pao. She was too shocked to even respond.

Afterward, Vassallo and Pao, who hadn’t always gotten along as co-workers, talked with each other and went to John Doerr, the firm’s leader.

“Trae was very upset. She was offended at having been asked to take notes. … She was upset that women were disproportionately seated in the back of the room,” Pao recalled on the stand. “I said, ‘We have a problem.’ There are a lot of ways women were not treated fairly at Kleiner Perkins.”

Doerr listened to their concerns and then suggested all the women get together and come up with a list of the ways women were not treated fairly and figure it out as a group.

Pao went to Vassallo’s office and learned that Vassallo had been complaining to managing partners about harassment from Nazre, and that the managing partners had done nothing about it, Pao testified.

Pao, who had dated Nazre and felt he was punishing her at work for ending the relationship, was shocked. She also heard about three administrative assistants who complained about harassment and discrimination. Another partner at the firm, Juliet de Baubigny, told her Nazre was “a sex addict,” Pao said.

Ultimately, Kleiner Perkins hired independent investigator Stephen Hirschfeld to look into these allegations. He told Pao he wanted a job at Kleiner Perkins afterward, Pao said, and she felt he wouldn’t be a fair judge of her situation. He didn’t take notes when Pao told him about the “sex addict” comment. Hirschfeld ultimately decided there were no signs of gender-based discrimination at the firm.

The Firm Tried to Move Pao’s Office to the Back of the Building

When Ajit Nazre was being moved within the firm in 2008, Doerr asked Pao for her opinion on a new seating arrangement: The firm had decided to move Nazre to an office right in front of Pao’s. Did she feel comfortable with that? She did not.

So Doerr moved her to a new seat — in the back of the building with the guest offices. No other employees sat there, she testified.

She wrote to him in 2008:

“When you asked last week whether I would be uncomfortable sitting across form Ajit, I didn’t realize that I would be opening myself up to sitting in the back corner of guest offices. I’d much prefer to remain in the central area or ‘power corridor’ where I have more opportunity to interact with others. I also believe it is better for the firm if visitors see at least 2 women (assuming Aileen returns soon) in the main area among the 11 men, esp given the large number of female partners you have hired.”

Pao Said She Was Fired Without Warning — Months After Filing This Lawsuit

Pao said she met with senior partners Matt Murphy and Ted Schlein to discuss her 2012 review, after she had filed the lawsuit.

She was told there would be a 60-day period to review her activities, followed by a review at the end of that process. She said she was not told that her being fired was a possibility.

Lawless asked, “Did anyone suggest to you that your termination was on the horizon?”

“No, they did not,” Pao said.

“Did anyone give you a specific performance improvement plan?” Lawless asked.

“No, they did not,” Pao said.

Pao was fired at the end of the period.

Pao Originally Turned the Job Opportunity at Kleiner Perkins Down — And They Came Back With a Better Offer

Much of the case hinges on what job exactly Pao signed up to do — was it a support staff position that would lead to an operating role at a portfolio company or was it a venture capital apprenticeship?

One interesting new bit on this: After discussing the job working for John Doerr, Pao says she dropped out of the application process.

“I decided ultimately that the role seemed too junior, that the outcome of the role would be to find me an operating role, which I could find on my own at the time,” she said. “Moving to a project in an operating role would be fairly straightforward for me. I told Juliet I was going to take myself out of the process — she said to slow down and that people were very interested and I should have a conversation with John.”

Doerr changed the job description to reflect a more senior role, Pao said: “He changed the role so it would be more senior and so there would be a new opportunity for me potentially so I could be an investor at a leading venture capital firm, Kleiner Perkins. There would be an opportunity for me to invest with him.”

Porn, Erotica, and Al Gore — An Update

It’s odd to say, but at this point even the salacious topics are a little exhausting. Nonetheless we learned a little more about each, so here we go.

Porn: Pao traveled on a private plane with Schlein, Murphy, investor Jody Gessow and Chegg CEO Dan Rosensweig.

“They were discussing porn stars, they were discussing an adult cable show that involved sexual acts, they were discussing the Victoria’s Secret runway show, they were discussing older men they knew who were dating younger women, and they had a comment on Marissa Mayer being hot so Dan would let her on his board,” Pao said.

She said she didn’t stop the conversation because she didn’t want to “seem like a wet blanket.”

Erotica: As a Valentine’s present, Pao received a book from Randy Komisar that included erotic poetry and sketches of nude women.

“It had drawings of naked women and it had poems that were erotic covering masturbation, an older man longing for a younger women, and he also gave it to me for Valentine’s Day,” she said. “Around the same time he invited me to dinner on a weekend and made a point of letting me know that his wife was going to be out of town.”

Al Gore: One night, she ran into a group of Kleiner Perkins partners and entrepreneurs going up to a private dinner at Al Gore’s apartment.

“It was pretty humiliating. I’d seen all the entrepreneurs. I had to tell them I wasn’t going to be there,” she said. “And it was just because I wasn’t a man.”

Doerr Didn’t Want Her on RPX Board Because She Was Pregnant, Pao Testified

Pao said, over objection from lead defense attorney Lynne Hermle, that the reason Komisar was chosen for the RPX board was because of her pregnancy.

“I learned that because of my maternity leave, I wasn’t being considered for a board seat or board observer role,” she said.

From a 2008 email chain, Pao wrote to Komisar: “John wanted to talk about RPX role when I get back from maternity leave, and it sounds like he doesn’t think I’ll have time to work on it before then. I thought it made sense to follow his lead and wait for his guidance.”

Komisar replied: “Is it ok for me to lobby for you to team up with me on this?”

Pao replied to Komisar: “Since John is anxious about my upcoming maternity leave, I don’t want him to feel like I’m taking on more work, and I don’t want him to feel I’m ignoring his wishes/advice.”

Pao Wanted Kleiner to Invest in Twitter — Kleiner Said No

Lawless asked if Pao looked into any other investments that Kleiner Perkins decided not to invest in.

“There was one company called Twitter that I thought was really interesting,” she said, causing some in the audience to laugh.

“I spent time with Jack Dorsey and I thought we should look into that more. I tried to bring it to Matt Murphy’s attention — he had met with them maybe a year earlier,” she said. “I said I understood he had spent some time with the company previously and I thought we should take another look, I heard they were raising money and it could be an interesting investment. … They had only raised one or two rounds of funding, so they were very early stage.”

“Matt Murphy said yes, they had looked before, but the team was not business-minded and that we should not spend any more time with them,” she said.

Did the company in 2007 make any investment in Twitter, Lawless asked? No, Kleiner Perkins did not, Pao responded. Later, the firm did.

“We weren’t making, in my mind, good decisions,” Pao said.

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