Silicon Valley's venerable venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, slammed with a gender discrimination lawsuit by one of its female partners last month, on Wednesday filed its official legal response, denying the allegations and disparaging the work of its accuser.
Ellen Pao, a Harvard-educated partner on Kleiner's digital team who joined the firm in 2005 and who still works there, charged that she was pressured to have sex with one partner, propositioned by another and then punished when she complained to top management.
Kleiner's hard-hitting response, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, offers up an unusually detailed list of retorts and legal obstacles to her complaint. It notes that the statute of limitations has expired, questions the quality of Pao's work and says the firm promptly launched an independent investigation into her claims when she raised them in late 2011 or early 2012.
Specifically, the firm defended managing partner Ray Lane, whom Pao accused of encouraging her to marry her alleged harasser, former Kleiner partner Ajit Nazre. In fact, the filing says, Pao "thanked Lane for his help and understanding" after she talked with him about her "consensual relationship" with Nazre -- whom the suit notes was married when he and Pao slept together in late 2006.
Pao's lawsuit claims Nazre, who
Kleiner also countered Pao's assertions that partner Randy Komisar harassed her. While one of the most titillating details in the original lawsuit says Komisar gave Pao a 2007 Valentine's Day present of "The Book of Longing" by singer Leonard Cohen, which the suit says included sexual drawings and poems, the venture firm's response said Pao "twisted the facts."
Its filing contends that Komisar, a practicing Buddhist, gave Pao the gift after she gave him a book about Buddhism; Cohen's book was written after an extended stay at a Zen monastery. The filing says Pao never complained about the gift and subsequently asked Komisar to participate in her performance reviews.
The firm denied it retaliated against Pao, which she alleged occurred after she complained about the harassment from Nazre. Rather, Pao expressed "gratitude and (a) desire to move on," the filing says.
While Pao's suit says her superiors ignored years of complaints about Nazre's behavior, the venture firm claims that the first it heard of her concerns was when she and her lawyer were already working up the lawsuit.
Pao's attorney, Alan Exelrod, did not immediately return a call for comment but has declined previously to speak about the case.
In the court filing, Kleiner disparaged the quality of Pao's work, noting that her 2011 review said she wasn't considered "a good team player" or a trusted partner by others. A 2010 review said Pao was too "territorial," that colleagues did not "trust her motivations" and that she had a "sense of entitlement rather than earning her position."
In an apparent reference to Pao's damning claim that Kleiner Perkins fostered a culture where women were second-class citizens, the response stated: "Plaintiff did not earn the necessary response of her male and female partners for promotion." The filing also said female partners and entrepreneurs had been present at two parties that Pao's lawsuit described as male-only.
David Kadue, an employment lawyer with Seyfarth Shaw in Los Angeles, said the filing is "unusual" in that it includes a fairly detailed denial of the claims in Pao's suit, in addition to a general denial of wrongdoing.
"It's a fine piece of work, and it's clearly written for public relations purposes," he said. "Legally, all they had to do was the general denial."
Kadue also was mystified by some of the supporting documents filed Wednesday with the response. While the full documents were not immediately available on the court's website, a listing of them showed that Kleiner is seeking to compel Pao to arbitrate her case. A document written by Paul Vronsky, Kleiner's in-house general counsel, is listed on the court's website as supporting that motion, but the Vronsky document filed Wednesday was apparently redacted.
Another motion asks the court to seal unspecified records filed in connection with the case. A hearing on that request has apparently been set for July 10.
"It's unclear what they're trying to seal, but there's something that's going to be embarrassing to somebody," Kadue said. He surmised that there could be information in Vronsky's document that might be embarrassing to Pao, and the redacted filing and motion to seal could be a signal to her.
"The message could be, 'If you continue the lawsuit, this stuff's gonna become public,' " Kadue said.
A Kleiner Perkins spokeswoman said the firm would not comment beyond the filing. Its outside attorney, Lynne Hermle of Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe, did not immediately return messages.
Staff writer Dana Hull contributed to this report. Contact John Boudreau at 408-278-3496 or firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him at Twitter.com/svwriter. Contact Peter Delevett at 408-271-3638 or email@example.com; follow him at Twitter.com/mercwiretap.