Jurors in the Pao vs. Kleiner Perkins courtroom drama captivating Silicon Valley have zeroed in on the words of a senior partner at the storied venture-capital firm that could prove central to the verdict: Junior partner Ellen Pao lacked the “genetic makeup” to be promoted to investor.
Pao claims she wasn’t promoted at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers because of gender discrimination, and the words of Ted Schlein on the witness stand late last month could be shaping the verdict, which is being considered behind closed doors for a third day.
After disappearing into a room in a courthouse across from San Francisco’s grand City Hall on Wednesday, six men and six women are still determining whether Kleiner discriminated against Pao because she’s a women, then fired her when she spoke out about it.
The jury must work through 14 pages of instructions and a seven-page verdict form with 30 questions to formulate its verdict on two charges of gender discrimination and two charges of retaliation.
The jurors have four weeks of testimony to make their decision, though the lawsuit has gripped Silicon Valley ever since Pao filed it nearly three years ago.
On Thursday afternoon, it appeared the jury might have come to its decision. The San Francisco Superior Court, which has tweeted major developments and announcements in the case, announced that the attorneys and judge were returning to the courtroom because the “jury has sent a request to Judge Kahn.” The “Paoparazzi,” the nickname for a dozen tech journalists covering the trial, swarmed to the courtroom – but it was simply for a jury question.
Juros asked about testimony from Kleiner Perkins relating to Pao’s qualifications as an investor. Then on Friday morning, jurors asked about Schlein’s statement that she lacked traits to be an investor. This could suggest jurors are weighing the first charge of gender discrimination.
Sexism in tech has been top of mind for many in the culture of Silicon Valley as a string of incidents has played out over the last several years — from a settlement in a sexual harassment claim at dating startup Tinder to “Gamergate,” the sustained online abuse of women in the video game industry. But the three-year saga of the Pao case — involving alleged talk of porn stars by male partners, dinners with Al Gore and trysts real and attempted at the venture capital firm, may have captured public attention more than any other.
“People see much larger themes in this one than in the average dispute,” said Kelly Dermody, a San Francisco attorney who has handled discrimination and other cases against Silicon Valley companies. Dermody said the public interest and suspense awaiting the verdict are spurred by Kleiner’s stature, the reputation of sexism in venture capital, and “the sense of many that this became a trial of a woman’s personality.”
The trial has unfolded on Twitter , which has headquarters a half-mile from the courtroom, and which is a Kleiner investment.
On Thursday, influential investor Sam Altman, who runs incubator Y Combinator and sits on the board of Reddit, where Pao is interim CEO, tweeted his only comments of the topic of sexism in tech.
And Kleiner lead attorney Lynne Hermle reads the Paoparazzi’s tweets and comments on them in person.
More than 4,000 tweets have mentioned “Pao” and “Kleiner” in the past three days, according to social search site Topsy, and 26,000 in the past month.
But the big avalanche announcing the verdict looms in the near future. We just don’t know when.
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