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How Kleiner Perkins' Matt Murphy Fired Ellen Pao

Where is the "thought leadership"?


Around the same time that Ellen Pao filed her discrimination and retaliation lawsuit, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers general partner Matt Murphy began taking the negative notes on her performance that he would use to fire her, he testified today.

In fact, it was a few days later.

On May 10, 2012, Ellen Pao filed a gender discrimination and retaliation lawsuit against Kleiner. On May 14, 2012, her effective supervisor at the firm, Murphy, began taking extremely critical notes on their weekly check-ins, which had started late in the previous year.

Murphy read from those May 14 notes on the stand today — and laid out his case for why Pao was fired later in 2012. About Pao, he had scribbled things like: “No concrete action or willingness to produce goals.” He noted she had not looked into the two technology sectors for which they’d agreed she would develop “thought leadership.”

For Murphy, Pao had two big faults: One, she had trouble working with other partners at the firm, so they were unlikely to want her on their team for various projects. Two, she had failed to scope out a new market and map out the companies and people in it, getting to know it better than other people at the firm. In fact, Murphy had problems with her for years — he found it off-putting that she complained about perceived slights with other partners, and he described himself as embarrassed when she fell asleep at one of his board meetings. He and other partners had wanted to fire Pao in 2011, but John Doerr stepped in and stopped them.

He recalled on the stand, “I said ‘make the goal concrete,’ and she nodded at me and agreed to it, but didn’t say ‘Okay I’ll have it to you by tomorrow.’ If I were in that role I’d immediately take the feedback and act on it quickly.”

The tone of the meeting was professional, Murphy told Kleiner’s lead defense attorney Lynne Hermle.

One interesting note: Hermle somehow kept forgetting that the meeting took place in 2012, saying instead that it happened in 2011, leading to a confusion in dates throughout Murphy’s testimony. It was a rare and curious slip for the extremely self-possessed attorney.

“If Ellen had taken this feedback and run with it, I think she would have demonstrated a lot to the firm,” Murphy told Hermle. The point being: She still had a chance to stay at Kleiner, even after filing her lawsuit.

And that’s what the defense team was seeking to prove so it can fight back against Pao’s claim she was fired as retaliation for her lawsuit. Murphy was the point person on Pao’s performance during her last year at the firm, so his testimony was crucial.

In July 2012, Pao was told she needed to improve on four fronts: Be sought out as a team member, be a good networker, demonstrate thought leadership and make a difference on a board. Kleiner wanted to put her on a 60-day performance improvement plan. Pao’s team contests whether this formally happened.

Asked Hermle: “During this time frame, Ms. Pao had filed a lawsuit — did it ever play a role?” Murphy replied: “No, it never came up and the meetings were very professional.”

He later added that the tone between himself and Pao at those meeting was “never contentious at all,” adding, “at times I found myself pleading with her to do better.”

When Kleiner did decide to finally fire Pao, in October 2012, Murphy took the lead in a meeting that included her, Ted Schlein and himself. He laid out generous severance terms and tried to set up a smooth six-month transition, Murphy testified. That’s directly counter to Pao’s version of events — she has described an abrupt, pack-your-bags-and-get-out interaction.

Tomorrow, we’ll come back with Murphy’s cross examination and jury questions. Good night to all!

Correction: This story was corrected to show that Ellen Pao’s supervisor at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Matt Murphy, began taking notes on Pao’s performance four days after she had filed her lawsuit, not one day.

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