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Not Too Many Wins for Famed VC John Doerr in First Half of Testimony

"Her willingness to travel works, unless/until she becomes a mom."

Vicki Behringer

When debating whether to hire a female partner, John Doerr wrote to other partners in 2008 that the firm should consider if the woman in question, Amy Chiang, would eventually reproduce.

“I’ve thought a while about Amy, and want to add a big plus, namely her willingness and interest in traveling the world,” he wrote, adding however that “her willingness to travel works, unless/until she becomes a mom.”

If Doerr had been coming off near-perfectly in the Pao v. Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers gender discrimination lawsuit so far, today that changed.

He looked tense and nervous on the stand as he sat across from Pao, his former mentee who is now suing his firm for $16 million in a historic Silicon Valley lawsuit. He kept his lips pursed and spoke very quietly (the court reporter, sitting just a couple feet away from him, repeatedly asked him to speak up). Liz Gannes and I kept a liveblog during the session today for those who want all the details, but below are three key takeaways from Doerr’s testimony with Pao’s attorney Alan Exelrod.

(Tomorrow when Doerr’s cross-examination with the Kleiner Perkins defense team concludes, we’ll publish another post. Suffice to say, his demeanor and the characterization of his approach to women changed significantly.)

Some consistent arguments we see every day: Exelrod seeks to continue showing that Pao was hired in an apprenticeship role that was a springboard into investing roles, while defense attorney Lynn Hermle has argued that Pao was always expected to return to working as an executive at a technology company after a stint at the venture capital firm. Exelrod seeks to show that an investment in startup RPX had been Pao’s choice (which Doerr today confirmed) and that she was pushed out of a board seat because she was a woman (which Doerr denied).

Doerr seems to have forgotten much of what he told the sexual discrimination investigator

Kleiner Perkins hired an outside investigator, Steve Hirschfeld, to explore Pao’s and Trae Vassallo’s complaints of sexual discrimination and harassment, respectively. Doerr admitted on the stand that he never read the final report.

Exelrod cited something Doerr allegedly told Hirschfeld in his 2012 interview: “Kleiner Perkins was a firm run by men.”

Doerr said he didn’t remember saying that.

Exelrod asked: “Did you tell Mr. Hirschfeld that ‘women were at a disadvantage because of the sheer number of men in venture capital’?”

Doerr said he didn’t recall saying that. Exelrod said he’s reading directly from Hirschfeld’s notes.

Finally, Exelrod asked: “You met with Mr. Hirschfeld — did you describe that ‘Ms. Pao had a female chip on her shoulder.’”

Doerr did not recall.

Testimony from Hirschfeld — who was hired by Kleiner Perkins and will be paid by them to take the stand, yet may be a boon to the plaintiff — should be interesting.

Doerr repeatedly described women around their gender and reproductive state

Kleiner Perkins recruited Tina Ju, an established venture capitalist in China, to lead a China fund. As one of the earliest female investors at the firm, Ju has been mentioned frequently over the past week in court.

In a 2007 email, Doerr wrote, “Tina is a highly respected female senior partner with proved venture experience. Patient, firm, savvy founder of firm, VC investor, and mother of two young kids.”

Immediately following, another venture capitalist named Joe is described, without any reference to his family.

Exelrod asked: “Another person was a gentleman named Joe, yes?”

“Yes,” Doerr said.

“And did he have children?” Exelrod asked.

“Yes,” Doerr said.

This doesn’t seem to be limited to Doerr.

Pao wasn’t chosen to be on the board of RPX, a patent startup she’d advocated for and that later went public; instead, Randy Komisar, a senior partner who had initially recommended not investing in RPX but also had experience working on intellectual property, was chosen.

Pao was upset, but Komisar and Doerr explained their reasoning to her, and in July 2008, she wrote: “Randy stopped by and cleared up more of my confusion. He mentioned that when he raised the idea of my being a board member with you on Monday, you recommended against it, because I would be on maternity leave.”

The guys needed a win

Exelrod asked whether Doerr had given Komisar the board seat at RPX as an ego boost.

“Didn’t you tell Ms. Pao at the time that ‘Randy needed a win’?” Exelrod said.

“I told Ms. Pao that her job was to support the senior partners,” Doerr replied.

Exelrod continued: “Didn’t you tell Ms. Pao that one of the reasons you chose Mr. Komisar to be the board member was that ‘he needed a win’?”

“Randy needed a win. Kleiner needed a win. I could use some wins,” Doerr said, looking visibly exhausted.

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