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Sexual harassment lawsuit roils Silicon Valley
Question of the Day
But the court records are full of accusations, counter accusations and long-simmering resentments of Pao and her bosses at Kleiner, who labeled her a poor performer passed over for promotion only for lack of merit.
Pao earned an undergraduate engineering degree from Princeton University and a law degree from Harvard. While working for a prestigious law firm, she earned a master’s of business administration from Harvard and ultimately went to work in June 2005 as Doerr’s chief of staff at Kleiner. She said she was called a “junior partner” and was told she would move into a full-time investing role in three years if she did a good job.
She claims her troubles at the firm started almost upon her arrival.
Pao said she filed her lawsuit after enduring five years of harassment from Ajit Nazre, a junior partner when she was hired who was later promoted to senior partner. Nazre left the firm in January and didn’t respond to email and phone messages.
Pao claims that senior partners such as Doerr ignored her complaints about Nazre. She concedes she and Nazre had “two or three” consensual sexual encounters but alleges he began harassing her after she broke off their relationship.
According to her lawsuit, Nazre began excluding her from important meetings, email chains and withholding necessary information for her to succeed at Kleiner. Instead of addressing her alleged problems, Pao claims partners either ignored her complaints, joined in her ostracism _ or worse.
She said senior partner Ray Lane pressured her to drop her complaints and suggested that she should marry Nazre. She also claims another senior partner, Randy Komisar, sent her a sexually explicit book of poems and pictures on Valentine’s Day 2007 with a handwritten inscription.
The firm said Pao never complained about Nazre or any other harassment until she hired her attorney in late 2011. The firm claims that she even thanked Lane for supporting her during her breakup with Nazre, a “married peer.”
Pao also charges she was excluded from business-related outings that included a private jet ski trip to Vail, similar jet trips to New York and important dinner parties with influential executives hosted at a senior partner’s San Francisco residence. Pao alleges that the dinner snubs were particularly embarrassing because she lived in the same building and ran into attendees arriving for dinner. Pao said she was told the dinner affairs were attended exclusively by men because women “kill the buzz.”
Kleiner’s attorneys accuse Pao of misconstruing Komisar’s gift, which the company says was actually purchased by Komisar’s wife. The book at issue is Leonard Cohen’s “The Book of Longing,” which the songwriter wrote during his five-year stay at a Zen monastery. Komistar is a Buddhist.
Adding further intrigue, Pao’s husband, Alphonse “Buddy” Fletcher Jr., is involved in a well-publicized racial discrimination lawsuit in New York City with the Dakota Apartments _ the place where John Lennon was killed _ over his attempts to buy a fifth apartment. Fletcher is a well-known philanthropist who lived with his same-sex partner at the Dakota for 10 years until marrying Pao in 2007. They have a 3-year-old daughter.
Regardless of whether the case plays out publicly in court or behind closed doors in arbitration, longtime observers of the Silicon Valley scene are taken aback that the venerable firm is accused of such unseemly conduct.
Jamis MacNiven, owner of the iconic Silicon Valley watering hole Buck’s of Woodside that Kleiner partners have frequented for decades, said he was stunned to learn of the lawsuit because of the firm’s “impeccable reputation.”
“These are the most normal people in the world,” MacNiven said.
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