Silicon Valley Gender Bias Trial: Reddit CEO Rocks Foundations

In California’s Silicon Valley, a major gender bias trial is shaking the foundations of the technology capitol of the world. As previously reported by the Inquisitr, the women of Silicon Valley have already been speaking out this year about discrimination after a Newsweek cover accompanying their own story on discrimination in the Valley was blasted by TechCrunch author Alexia Tsotsis.

Now, as reported by The Guardian, Reddit interim CEO Ellen Pao has launched a $16 million lawsuit against venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, accusing them of severe sexual discrimination, and a cursory glance at the numbers back her up; only 11 percent of executive positions in Silicon Valley are held by women, according to a recent diversity report by law firm Fenwick & West. The groundbreaking trial has garnered enough attention that the San Francisco courthouse is even tweeting updates.

Many women have spoken out about gender discrimination in the tech industry, and Silicon Valley in particular, and many accusations have been settled out of court with non-disclosure agreements; Pao’s case, described as a landmark trial, is perhaps the first to be held fully in the public eye, and is said to be exposing the secret world of Silicon Valley venture capitalism. Certainly, as Reddit’s interim CEO, she is the highest-profile person in Silicon Valley to take a gender discrimination accusation to court and she has the temporal and financial power to give as good as she gets. Perhaps even more-so, Reddit being the 10th most-visited site in the United States, according to Alexa.

According to a Financial Times report, Pao has alleged that in her time at KPCB in Silicon Valley, at which she was a junior partner until being fired in 2012, she was paid less than her male peers, denied opportunities, and that the firm failed to deal adequately with sexual harassment complaints. She complained of being deliberately left out of important dinners, assigned to less-visible chairs in important meetings than her status would warrant and being blocked from the board of a successful start-up she had brought to the firm. She also claimed that after a brief affair with male coworker Ajit Nazre, he vindictively left her out of important emails and meetings. When she approached KPCB senior partner Ray Lane with these issues, he allegedly suggested that she try to reconcile their differences and pointed out that his own successful second marriage had started in the office.

In contrast, KPCB’s lawyers are describing her as the stereotypical picture of a vindictive woman attempting to take opportunistic advantage of the current climate of discrimination awareness in Silicon Valley. Her $16 million claim is already very high by the standards of discrimination lawsuits and does not include any punitive damages the court may award. They also suggested that she was overly ambitious and difficult to work with, and that she did not deserve a promotion, and presented career reviews in court painting her as both overly aggressive, unduly passive and unable to work well with others. Freada Kapor Klein, a partner at Kapor Capital (another venture capital firm in Silicon Valley,) said that these contradictory reviews were indicative of the state of gender discrimination in Silicon Valley.

“Frankly, the more diverse you are from the prototypical white, male venture capitalist, the narrower the bands of acceptable behaviour become.”

If nothing else, the case is shedding much light on gender discrimination in Silicon Valley, increasing public awareness, and likely making it much harder for major tech companies and start-ups to hand-wave discrimination accusations.

[Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]