Ellen Pao Loses Silicon Valley Bias Case Against Kleiner Perkins
March 28, 2015 8:52 AM   Subscribe

"The plaintiff, Ellen Pao, had accused the firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, of discriminating against her in the course of her employment and eventual dismissal. The decision handed Kleiner a sweeping victory in a case that had mesmerized Silicon Valley with its salacious details while simultaneously amplifying concerns about the lack of diversity in the technology industry." Pao is now the CEO Reddit - Relevant Reddit thread.
posted by marienbad (52 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Hm, well, this is the kind of case where everyone loses. The treatment of Pao at KPCB went from weird to pretty clear harassment. That KPCB "won" the case means they don't have to pay more money but I don't think anyone who followed the case sees them in a good light.
posted by GuyZero at 8:59 AM on March 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


That reddit thread is a clusterfuck of ignorant dudes hating on a professional woman. "she was a bad employee" ... who worked at the top VC firm for seven years.
posted by zippy at 9:08 AM on March 28, 2015 [11 favorites]


Yeah. All the suit really says is that US employment law makes it ridiculously difficult to sue for wrongful termination and win.
posted by schmod at 9:09 AM on March 28, 2015 [12 favorites]


A significant chunk of Reddit's userbase has decided that Pao is basically the symbol of the horrific oppression they endure, where the site is no longer as friendly as it used to be to distribution of jailbait and illegally-obtained photos, because clearly that's a violation of their free speech and a sign that the site's been taken over by evil SJWs. Pretty sure their understanding of employment, much less employment law, is hazy.
posted by Sequence at 9:12 AM on March 28, 2015 [43 favorites]


I hadn't followed this case closely, but an article I had read in probably the Times a month or two back made it sound a lot more like a slam dunk in terms of documented bad behavior.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:17 AM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think the OP must have been using the word 'relevant' rather loosely. That Reddit thread is a shitshow.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:21 AM on March 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah, that thread. The irony of worrying about Pao bringing "controversy" to Reddit's image, after the last CEO, is...wow. Numbers have no meaning.
posted by byanyothername at 9:22 AM on March 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


"she was a bad employee" ... who worked at the top VC firm for seven years.

Obviously the union kept her from being fired!
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:30 AM on March 28, 2015 [10 favorites]


She has all of the talent and brains in the world and she has apparently only ever used them to make the rich and powerful even more rich and powerful. I agree from a cold logical perspective that she deserves the same legal protections as everyone else, but I cannot summon any outrage specifically for her. If that makes me a bad person then I'll be a bad person, but everything I've read about her causes my brain to scream "class enemy!" and I'm not even a communist.
posted by 1adam12 at 9:48 AM on March 28, 2015 [19 favorites]


I'm not sure that /r/news is a good source of news. On a recent workday between 11am and 5pm PST, /r/news moderators only allowed six articles to be posted to their new queue. I'm pretty sure almost every major newspaper published more than six articles in that time span.

In a separate issue, here is another link to /r/undelete cataloging the massive amounts of comments and posts about the Ellen Pao case that have been removed from reddit by moderators.
posted by GregorWill at 9:54 AM on March 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


On a recent workday between 11am and 5pm PST, /r/news moderators only allowed six articles to be posted to their new queue.

And probably all of them about black people behaving badly or false rape allegations.

In a separate issue, here is another link to /r/undelete cataloging the massive amounts of comments and posts about this issue that have been removed from reddit by moderators.

In fairness, the vast majority violated the rules of the subreddit (e.g., /r/worldnews doesn't allow posts about US domestic news).
posted by dirigibleman at 10:03 AM on March 28, 2015


This was the first legal case I can think of where the brotastic dudes of Silicon Valley had their culture exposed to the light. #ThankYouEllenPao surfaced briefly yesterday in support. (Though now that tag is more of a showcase of misogynist assholes because we cannot have nice things.)
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:08 AM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ellen Pao's post-trial statement on twitter.

I was keeping an eye on the trial via a list one of the live-tweeters at the courthouse put together, and everyone was pretty boggled when the judge sent the jury back to deliberate on the fourth charge. That's not something you see very often.

I don't really have any interest in subjecting myself to reddit on topics like this, so here some articles from Re/code, Wired, the Verge, Bloomberg for any others who feel the same. And I liked this write up on why the verdict isn't a loss for women.
posted by polymath at 10:33 AM on March 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


a case that had mesmerized Silicon Valley

...and yet, this long-time, media-savvy Valley resident hadn't heard anything about this, until today.
posted by Rash at 10:50 AM on March 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


OJ was found innocent. Just sayin'.
posted by tommasz at 10:55 AM on March 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


She has all of the talent and brains in the world and she has apparently only ever used them to make the rich and powerful even more rich and powerful. I agree from a cold logical perspective that she deserves the same legal protections as everyone else, but I cannot summon any outrage specifically for her. If that makes me a bad person then I'll be a bad person, but everything I've read about her causes my brain to scream "class enemy!" and I'm not even a communist.

The thing is that if you open the door to sexual discrimination and harassment anywhere, you open it everywhere. The attitudes that caused Pao to be windowseated also make it so that VCs rarely fund startups headed even in part by women (hence why they stripped Wolfe of her founder title at Tinder.) This is why you see feminists routinely criticize gendered attacks on female conservatives - because the fact that a woman is conservative doesn't make her fair game.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:56 AM on March 28, 2015 [29 favorites]


OJ was found not guilty under the stringent "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt" standard.

OJ was found liable under the permissive "preponderance of the evidence" standard.

KPCB was found not liable under the permissive "preponderance of the evidence" standard.
posted by bswinburn at 11:02 AM on March 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


OJ was found innocent. Just sayin'.

One, he was found not guilty, which is a very different finding. Second, the popular image was that ruling was only because of a racist cop, a quick talking lawyer, and an overwhelmed judge turning the case into a shitshow, which led to people thinking that he "got away with it". The later civil trial and his bizzare behavior afterwards just added to that.

In comparison, the sense I'm getting of the popular attitude with this is that people are seeing Pao as an opportunist, who was just looking for a quick payday.I've seen a lot of people taking the attitude that this case "proves" that it's a bad idea to hire women, because they're nothing more than walking lawsuit factories. And that depresses me.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:03 AM on March 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


The first time I became acquainted with this case was this article citing Pao's team characterizing Leonard Cohen's Book of Longing as an inappropriate gift of erotic poetry. I own this book, and if that really was a "key" piece of Pao's evidence, then my initial takeaway was that her team was pretty much overreaching. The book definitely has erotic drawings, but to me they were more in service of typical Leonard Cohen fare than erotic lit itself.
posted by Perko at 11:25 AM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


A friend of mine is a longtime, widely respected journalist who covered the case. She said she was not surprised that Pao lost on the discrimination charge, given all that she observed in the courtroom, and was only a bit surprised that Pao didn't win on the firing-as-retaliation charge.
posted by twsf at 12:00 PM on March 28, 2015


"Millionaire Lawyer Loses Lawsuit!" The politicization of this case has been ridiculous given the information that came out in the trial. Ellen Pao is not the martyr you are looking for.
posted by dodecapus at 12:45 PM on March 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


...and yet, this long-time, media-savvy Valley resident hadn't heard anything about this, until today.

Probably because your brain heard "junior partner at KPP" and refused to devote any outrage to this story.
posted by sideshow at 2:44 PM on March 28, 2015


I own this book, and if that really was a "key" piece of Pao's evidence, then my initial takeaway was that her team was pretty much overreaching. The book definitely has erotic drawings

I don't own it, but as a thought experiment, imagine someone on ask writing "my boss at work gave me a book with erotic drawings in it, does this mean anything?" and how the discussion would go.
posted by zippy at 4:40 PM on March 28, 2015 [10 favorites]


Hooey- all this brocialism in here, holding my nose to wade through this thread. Though I still imagine these comments are 100x better than anything reddit would have to offer.

Whether or not she is a "martyr" we should expect, that's not the point. Was she discriminated against. That's the question? She very well is a "class enemy" (and I *do* consider myself a communist in some sense(s) of the word). But that still doesn't mean that any concerns she has should be dismissed. It's completely ridiculous. You can point out the hypocrisy if she continued to engage in such behavior towards other women, but you can't use her status a part of the bourgeoisie to try to setup some false dichotomy - a straw-suit if you will. You either support ending discrimination against women, or you don't. You can definitely say you don't think the evidence showed she was discriminated against, but you cannot say you support ending discrimination against women, while at the same time, saying it's allowable to do so on the basis of her gender, merely because she's one of the elite.
posted by symbioid at 4:50 PM on March 28, 2015 [24 favorites]


I still imagine these comments are 100x better than anything reddit would have to offer.

They actually are. It's pretty shocking how much virulent hatred there is for her there.
posted by fivebells at 5:28 PM on March 28, 2015


I agree that whether she is or is not part of the 1% problem should not be germane to the process of deciding whether she was discriminated against or not. From whatever I have read, sexism is rampant in VC culture and I don't have a hard time believing that firms like KPCB create an environment detrimental to women to the extent they deserve legal intervention.

The problem I have is how she has been made today's most important tech feminist issue, and this is a problem I have had with tech feminism in general. If I were to talk about women's issues in technology, I would start with the serfs. By 'serfs' I mean the people who do much of the actual labor (work in the fulfilment centers, do the laundry, transcribe the spoken conversations, cook the food, clean the toilets) that websites and apps take credit for. The serfs have by far the highest numbers of women you will find in Silicon Valley, as well as the least agency, and the kind of feminism I believe in would focus more on them than on the Sandbergs, Meyers, and Paos of the world.
posted by splitpeasoup at 6:05 PM on March 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm glad that an uninvolved party wasn't forced to participate in an indirect bailout of a failed long con grifter/ponzi schemer who stole hundreds of millions from the public. This context should have been allowed into evidence and wasn't, but I am glad that the jury made the right decision anyway. Hope the Pao Fletchers get the winners' legal bill on top of their other liens as well.
posted by knoyers at 6:23 PM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


What?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:04 PM on March 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


This was the first legal case I can think of where the brotastic dudes of Silicon Valley had their culture exposed to the light.

See also Reid v. Google
posted by zippy at 8:45 PM on March 28, 2015


1adam12: She has all of the talent and brains in the world and she has apparently only ever used them to make the rich and powerful even more rich and powerful. I agree from a cold logical perspective that she deserves the same legal protections as everyone else, but..
We get it. Justice is only for people you like.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:46 PM on March 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


> Justice is only for people you like.

No one said that. But honestly, compared to miscarriages of justice like Ferguson, I don't even have time to spare to worry about this millionaire whose civil suit was unsuccessful, even though it's unjust. She isn't going to miss a meal, spend a night in jail or end up on the street. Like so many other compassionate people I know, I stress out a great deal about injustices, so I feel very entitled to sit this one out.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:28 PM on March 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


What?

It's a reference to Pao's husband.
posted by fivebells at 10:45 PM on March 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


They all sound like the typical semi-sociopathic types that thrive so very well in those environments. Really quite deserving of one another.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:06 PM on March 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


fivebells: Thanks for posting that.

People who play the money games never seem to remember their own basic tenet:
You get what you get. Sometimes that's more than you deserve*, sometimes it's less. It is always, for every player, less than you want.

*"deserve" opens up another rabbit hole that only the foolish, the brave, or the brilliant go down.
posted by Chitownfats at 3:59 AM on March 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Some other links: Slate, New York Times, "The Upshot" (NYT again). I'm sure there's tons more commentary out there.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 8:02 AM on March 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


> Like so many other compassionate people I know, I stress out a great deal about injustices, so I feel very entitled to sit this one out.

Nobody's asking you to go on a hunger strike or chain yourself to the door of KP, but this dismissiveness is really ugly. Who cares about whether or not she got justice because she doesn't have to go to jail! Gross.

A lot of women who don't have anything like the power or status that she has and who face the kind of treatment and worse at VCs and other Silicon Valley employers are going to look at the outcome of this case and the kinds of things that people say about it and conclude rightly that if even someone like Pao can't be taken seriously then there's no point in even trying.
posted by rtha at 8:03 AM on March 29, 2015 [11 favorites]


I don't own it, but as a thought experiment, imagine someone on ask writing "my boss at work gave me a book with erotic drawings in it, does this mean anything?" and how the discussion would go.

Where this thought experiment breaks down, though, is that that is probably fourth or fifth on the list of this book's salient features, so that I don't really think that somebody would be looking to ask this in the first place. If we wanted an analogous book for our thought experiment, it would be like giving someone a gift of Japanese prints, a few of which had naked people-- paired with the writings of Octavio Paz or the ecstatic poetry of Rumi, who were certainly versed in eroticism, but only insofar as it was in service to their art and philosophy.
posted by Perko at 10:22 AM on March 29, 2015


From the "The Upshot" post that joseph conrad is fully awesome linked to:
Yet as heretical as it might sound in Silicon Valley, bureaucracy serves a purpose. Studies have found that women generally perform better in companies with more formal processes, and that women in science have better prospects for employment at start-ups that are more bureaucratic.
Adopting better HR policies and processes would also help SV tech firms reduce their exposure to lawsuits. I wonder what would happen if tech venture capital firms were to look at that part of the bottom line and start requiring that the startups they fund have competent HR staff and procedures from the get-go.
posted by metaquarry at 10:37 AM on March 29, 2015


Where this thought experiment breaks down, though, is that that is probably fourth or fifth on the list of this book's salient features, so that I don't really think that somebody would be looking to ask this in the first place. If we wanted an analogous book for our thought experiment, it would be like giving someone a gift of Japanese prints, a few of which had naked people-- paired with the writings of Octavio Paz or the ecstatic poetry of Rumi, who were certainly versed in eroticism, but only insofar as it was in service to their art and philosophy.

And that still would be really questionable in the context of a manager giving a gift to a subordinate of the opposite gender. Unless there are some really big extenuating circumstances, along the line of the two individuals knowing each other well and the recipient having strong interests in the subjects, that sort of gift is just a bomb looking for a spark. It's amazing how quick we are to look for reasons to dismiss problematic actions as overreactions when it comes to sex and gender in the workplace.

As for the point with bureaucracy, it comes back to the point about not being able to get away from power structures, because ultimately organization is the force multiplier. Creating defined structures makes the structure clear, and allows for everyone to understand the rules, at least better when those structures are only informally defined (and thus up for rewriting when it pleases those in power.)
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:52 AM on March 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's amazing how quick we are to look for reasons to dismiss problematic actions as overreactions when it comes to sex and gender in the workplace.

Conversely, it's amazing how quick we are to allow ourselves to completely disallow any trace of sexuality whatsoever from our 9 to 5 existence and pretend like this is natural or of overall benefit to humanity, and not merely an extension of our puritanical legacy-- a legacy unaware of the psychological fact that that which is repressed often becomes manifest regardless.

Was John Ashcroft covering up the naked Spirit of Justice at press conferences actually just a noble bureaucrat defusing a bomb looking for a spark?

I won't deny it's questionable to some, but I think it's a long way from even a 51/49 burden of proof in terms of an instance of workplace harassment.

Business Insider put together an 18-picture slideshow of the books "questionable" elements. Their writers do seem to think it was inappropriate, but I would encourage anyone interested in the question to make their own judgements.
posted by Perko at 11:13 AM on March 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, that slideshow? An older guy longing for a woman, eating her, and touching her pussy? From a senior male employee to a junior female employee?
posted by zippy at 11:31 AM on March 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


Knowing Cohen's work but not this specific book, my initial instinct was that the book would be a bad gift for the workplace but perhaps primarily tone-deaf as opposed to egregious. Having looked at the link that Perko posted, however, it's clear to me that the gift was way over the line. Poems about erections aren't workplace appropriate, no matter how you slice it.
posted by wemayfreeze at 11:45 AM on March 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


Regarding how important this case was, or the general case of gender discrimination at the highest levels of business and privilege: I believe that shit like this trickles down. You're not going to get a business to truly care about and work for diversity and non-discrimination unless the owners are diverse. (Of course that's no guarantee that they'll act any certain way, but it increases the odds significantly) To my mind, more women in VC = more women founders = more women in management = more diversity of concerns when it comes to business decisions. It's not the end-all-be-all of social change by any means, but it is a part of the change I want to see in the world.
posted by wemayfreeze at 11:50 AM on March 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Meh, you could do the same sort of terse summary (using far different language and terminologies than Cohen did, mind you) emphasisizing lasciviousness for the poetry of Robert Frost, I for one see it as reductionist. I'd like to retroactively preface my thoughts with a disclaimer that I in no way shape or form identify with those jokers who talk about "Men's Rights," but I am extremely anti-censorship.
posted by Perko at 11:53 AM on March 29, 2015


Since censorship is what happens when governments suppress speech, that's not relevant here.

What is relevant is that it's inappropriate for a superior to give a gift that is sexually charged to a subordinate. The power differential is seriously problematic.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:15 PM on March 29, 2015 [11 favorites]


If only sexual charges were as easy to define and characterize as electrical ones. Censorship is definitely relevant here.
posted by Perko at 12:24 PM on March 29, 2015


No. No it is not. Censorship is what happens when authorities suppress speech. That's not really something that's in question. People choosing of their own volition, or even societal pressure, is not censorship.

Are the poems discussing sex? Yes. Are there images of sexualized naked people? Yes. Is the subject matter about an older man being into a younger woman? Yes. Is the superior an older man and the subordinate a younger woman? Yes.

All of those things together make it a totally inappropriate workplace gift.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:34 PM on March 29, 2015 [8 favorites]


I think we can talk about societal censorship also, where behaviors that were accepted once now meet with broad disapproval. And we can think about how America's Puritan heritage plays into what's societally acceptable.

But there's so much more than Puritanism in play here. There's also a long history of women being blocked from jobs, of being treated differently than men as employees, just because they are women, and of explicit and implicit rules and behavior by men and women towards women to discourage them from being equals.

I guess I'm for a change in behaviors. It's a small matter if some guy has to think twice about the book of erotic poetry he's about to give a subordinate, in the larger picture of everyone having a career. I accept that trade-off.
posted by zippy at 4:19 PM on March 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Not all speech is okay just in the name of being "free". Sexualized pictures of people under the age of 18 is not okay. Fraud is not okay. Shouting "fire!" in a crowded theater, to use the old example, is not okay. These are things that harm people. Sending sexual material to people you don't know stands a very good chance of making them very deeply uncomfortable, and when you are their boss, that kind of discomfort puts that person at a disadvantage in employment. It's not okay. It doesn't matter where people in the US got their standards of sexual propriety; those standards exist as they are today, and violating them in the workplace when dealing with subordinates is never, ever, ever okay.
posted by Sequence at 7:33 PM on March 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


Speaking of sexual impropriety in the workplace, Dov Charney has filed a suit against American Apparel.
posted by rtha at 7:40 PM on March 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Perko: Was John Ashcroft covering up the naked Spirit of Justice at press conferences actually just a noble bureaucrat defusing a bomb looking for a spark?
John Ashcroft did not have the ability to dismiss that statue's employment, so that's a red herring.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:07 AM on March 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


Was John Ashcroft covering up the naked Spirit of Justice at press conferences actually just a noble bureaucrat defusing a bomb looking for a spark?
Correct me if I'm wrong, but John Ashcroft didn't give any of his subordinates a giant statue as a gift.
posted by verb at 9:54 AM on March 31, 2015


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