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Judge: Kleiner must fight lawsuit in open court

- Associated Press - Friday, July 20, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - One of Silicon Valley's oldest venture capital firms must fight a gender bias and retaliation lawsuit in open court, a judge ruled Friday.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Harold Kahn denied Kleiner, Perkins, Caulfield & Byers' request to move the lawsuit to arbitration, which is typically litigated and decided behind closed doors.

Kahn said resolving work disputes through arbitration is not required under Ellen Pao's contract, although it is common in others. Kleiner plans to appeal Kahn's ruling in hopes that the case can be settled quicker out of court, according to a statement issued Friday.

Pao, a junior partner at the firm, filed the lawsuit on May 10. The case has created a buzz in Silicon Valley, highlighting what some describe as the difficulties of women navigating a male-dominated tech industry.

Kleiner opened in 1972 and has made billions by investing early in the computer industry's biggest names, including Google and Amazon. Prominent Americans from outside the tech industry, including Al Gore and Colin Powell, joined the firm as senior partners. Throughout its history, women have rarely secured top management spots.

Pao, a 42-year-old Harvard law grad, joined Kleiner in 2005 as senior partner John Doerr's chief of staff. She said the firm fostered a culture that made it difficult for women to advance at the same rate and pay as male colleagues.

Pao's lawsuit alleges that partner Ajit Nazre, who did not respond to requests for comment, excluded her from important emails and meetings for five years after she ended a brief relationship with him. The lawsuit further alleges that other partners not only ignored her complaints, but also joined in the harassment.

Pao complained she was excluded from business trips and dinner parties and blocked from advancing to top spots reserved for men. Kleiner has denied the allegations in court filings, alleging that Pao's poor job performance, not her gender, held her back.

Both parties and their attorneys have declined to talk to the media specifically about the allegations.

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