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Ellen Pao Suffers Complete Loss in Historic Gender Discrimination Suit

A clear winner comes out of the trial.

Defendant Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers emerged victorious today after being battered by a month-long trial, with a jury finding against Ellen Pao on every one of her claims of gender discrimination and retaliation.

In a case that has captivated audiences well beyond the tech industry, Pao filed suit in 2012 against the storied Silicon Valley venture capital firm, where she had been a junior partner. Had the jury found in her favor, she could have won as much as $160 million. Through 24 grueling days in a downtown San Francisco courthouse, she exposed stories of all-male company ski trips and sexual harassment of another partner at the firm.

She also brought up smaller slights: Double standards in how aggressive women are allowed to be and how their success in investments translates into promotions.

Kleiner Perkins came back with a brutal, and ultimately successful, attack on her performance and personality, which they said was just not right for “Team KP.”

While Pao’s story may have helped provoke a broader conversation about gender imbalance and bias outside of the courtroom, in court she lost on all counts.

Around 2 pm, nearly two hundred observers — a majority of them women — gathered to listen to the verdict. When it came out, “no” after “no” to each of the four claims, there were a few gasps from the courtroom. And then a hushed silence. After hearing the decisions, the judge asked each juror to speak his or her vote so he could count it again.

When Judge Kahn finished counting, he realized something was awry: The question of whether Pao was retaliated against by Kleiner Perkins (she was fired five months after filing her suit). The vote was eight to four. The jury needed it to be nine to three for a verdict. He said he could not accept the verdict and sent the jury back.

At this point, Kleiner Perkins had all but won, and they knew it. As onlookers left the courtroom to resume waiting in the hallways, members of Kleiner Perkins’ team and supporters of the firm hugged and patted one another on the back. As we sat in the hallways to plug in and await further action, Lynne Hermle, the firm’s attorney, smiled and waved to us through the narrow window slats of the courtroom door. It was a victory for the firm and its billionaire leaders, who had been embroiled in this high-profile suit for three years now.

When the jury again reached a verdict, the juror who’d apparently changed his mind on that last claim had changed it back again.

Was Pao retaliated against? “No,” the court clerk read.

Pao Speaks

Pao, whose mother and sister were nearby, stood up. She hadn’t looked behind her throughout the reading, and she barely looked at the crowd even as she walked to an atrium at the end of the hallway to give a very brief and emotional statement.

“I want to thank my family and friends and everyone, male and female, who has reached out to tell me their stories,” she said. “I have told my story and thousands of people have heard it. My story is their story.”

She continued: “If I’ve helped to level the playing field for women and minorities in venture capital, then the battle was worth it.”

“Now it’s time for me to get back to my career,” she said.

A reporter yelled out from the camera crew scrum: “Ellen, why’d you lose the case?”

Another said: “Is there anything you’d say to Kleiner Perkins?”

Pao declined to comment further.

“We love you, Ellen,” a woman said as Pao walked out of the courtroom.

Hermle Speaks

Kleiner Perkins’ attorney, Lynne Hermle, entered the atrium smiling with her team.

“I’ll be brief,” she said, surveying the room. “I want to say it’s been an extraordinary honor and privilege representing Kleiner Perkins.”

“Trials, like venture capital, are a team sport,” she said, clearly hinting at the theme throughout the trial that Pao was not a team player.

“I’d like to thank the world’s greatest trial team,” she said, turning to her mostly female team, which specializes in helping corporations fight against employees who allege discrimination. “We call ourselves the all-girl trial team plus Joe.”

“It never occurred to me for a second that a careful and attentive jury like this one would find discrimination or retaliation,” she said.

“Thank you all,” she said. “See you in the next trial.”

A reporter asked: “Have you spoken to Mr. Doerr?”

“I have not,” she said, before thanking everyone again and leaving.

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