Over the past few months, talk about women’s rights and workplace gender discrimination has centered around one name: Ellen Pao. Ellen Pao is the current interim CEO of the internet giant, Reddit, who boasts an Ivy League education, including a law degree from Harvard. Unfortunately, it is not her impressive credentials that have thrust Pao into the spotlight; it is the gender discrimination lawsuit that she filed against her former employer, Kleiner Perkins, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm.
Pao’s Discrimination Story
Pao’s lawsuit brings three legal claims: gender discrimination, retaliation, and failure to take steps to prevent discrimination, all under California law. The factual basis for each claim is similar: Kleiner Perkins established a “good old boys” type working environment where Pao was treated differently and unfairly because of her gender; and when she complained, she was fired. Pao contends that she was a top performer, who benefitted the company’s bottom line, but was held back from promotions and other earning opportunities because of her gender. Among other instances of discrimination, she was excluded from male-only meetings, including one with former Vice President Al Gore.
Kleiner, of course, denies the allegations, and has attempted to paint Pao as a difficult person to work with, citing her personality as the reason she was not promoted and eventually fired. The company has stated that it has made efforts to establish a workplace friendly to both genders and has cited statistics showing that it employs more females than the average venture capital firm.
The month-long trial is nearing conclusion as closing arguments have begun. A jury will decide the verdict. There’s a lot at stake for both parties. Pao claims $16 million in lost wages and other compensatory damages. On top of that Pao is seeking well over $100 million in punitive damages, intended to punish Kleiner for the company’s bad behavior. Kleiner had attempted to remove the punitive damages claim, but the judge allowed it to proceed.
Future Impact of Ellen Pao’s Claims
Though Pao’s claims were brought under California law, the impacts of the case will be felt in New York and nationally for a variety of reasons. First, the gender discrimination and retaliation laws Pao sued under are similar to federal and New York state law. Further, the widespread media attention the case is receiving is already impacting employers, some of whom have already sought out consultants to improve their working environments. There is some concern that employers will shirk away from hiring women in the already male-dominated tech and investment fields for fear of lawsuits. However, this would be a mistake, as failure to hire based on an applicant’s gender is also illegal.
To Learn More
Whether you are a male or a female, if you’d like to learn more about what your rights are under New York and federal gender discrimination and retaliation laws, contact the attorneys at Joseph & Norinsberg at (212) JUSTICE or by e-mail at [email protected] today.