Update: The jury returned with a verdict after its second round of deliberations, finding against Pao on all counts. The verdict was accepted by the court.
A gender-discrimination lawsuit that has rocked Silicon Valley took another intriguing turn today, with the jury finding against former Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers partner Ellen Pao on all counts—only to be told by the judge in the case to return to the jury room and continue its deliberations.
A poll of the 12-member jury, taken after the verdict was announced, indicated that on one count, regarding whether Pao was terminated in retaliation for taking legal action against her former employer, only eight jurors voted with the majority in finding that she wasn’t. This was one vote shy of the nine votes required. (Unlike US federal court, which requires unanimity in verdicts, California state courts require agreement from just nine jurors, says Katrina Saleen, a gender discrimination lawyer at Broderick Saleen in Palo Alto, California.)
Pao, who currently serves as the interim CEO of the social message board Reddit, filed her lawsuit in 2012 shortly before Kleiner Perkins fired her, claiming that a male-dominated work environment made it difficult for women to advance at the firm. She said Kleiner Perkins retaliated against her after she brought to light an affair she had with partner Ajit Nazre. Nazre eventually was fired after the firm learned he had also made unwanted advances toward another female partner, Trae Vassallo. Pao sought $16 million in compensation for lost wages.
Throughout the trial, Kleiner Perkins painted Pao, who received negative marks in performance reviews, as an underperformer who was difficult to work with. Kleiner Perkins also maintained that it is a female-friendly workplace, having promoted more women than other firms. Pao, who said she was denied board seats of companies the firm invested in, portrayed Kleiner Perkins as a boys’ club that tolerated men’s misbehavior while women were held to different set of standards. “If I did talk, I was being too competitive or sharp-elbowed. The behavior that we exhibited was not acceptable [for] us, but it was acceptable for men,” Pao said on the witness stand earlier this month.
The jury deliberated for three days. It appeared to have had a sufficient majority for its finding that gender was not a substantial motivating reason for Kleiner Perkins’ not promoting her to senior partner. But court spokeswoman Ann Donlan confirmed that as of now, there is no verdict.