Photo: AP/Marcio Jose Sanchez
We just found something odd which hints that Kleiner Perkins may have been trying to push partner Ellen Pao out in mid-April—a month before she filed her bombshell discrimination lawsuit against the fabled venture-capital firm.In a post on Fortune’s Term Sheet blog about Kleiner partner Ray Lane stepping back from involvement in the firm’s newest fund, ace venture-capital reporter Dan Primack mentioned as an aside that Ellen Pao was leaving Kleiner Perkins.
He then revised his post, including the following note:
[UPDATE: An earlier version of this story reported that Kleiner Perkins partner Ellen Pao is planning to leave the firm. This appears to have been in error, and we sincerely regret the mistake].
We asked Primack what prompted the change in his reporting, but he wouldn’t comment. He did tell us, though, that his “original sources were not from within Kleiner Perkins.” (Here’s an example of a blog post which summarized Primack’s original report, sans correction.)
Is it a coincidence that the news about Lane stepping back came tied with a false rumour that Pao was leaving?
We don’t think so. Here’s why.
Here’s one explanation of what happened: At the time, Pao may have been considering whether to leave the firm or stay and fight. Colleagues or friends in whom she confided may have passed her thoughts on to Primack, or to Primack’s sources.
Who knows what their motives were in doing so?
In the end, Pao filed the lawsuit—and declared she had no plans to quit.
Lane, meanwhile, figures prominently in Pao’s lawsuit, which accuses the firm and several of its partners of gender discrimination and retaliation. Specifically, Pao alleged that Lane protected partner Ajit Nazre, whom she accused of retaliation after she broke off a relationship. According to Pao’s complaint, Lane allegedly suggested Pao resolve the matter by marrying Nazre.
Kleiner Perkins partner John Doerr has acknowledged that the firm investigated Pao’s claims earlier this year. That investigation, Doerr wrote, found that Pao’s claims were “without merit.” But Nazre subsequently left the firm, and Lane didn’t sign on to the new fund.
Lane, of course, has his hands full as executive chairman of Hewlett-Packard, so his decision to step back from Kleiner Perkins may have absolutely nothing to do with the Pao case.
A Kleiner Perkins spokeswoman acknowledged that Primack’s initial report was incorrect but couldn’t shed light on Kleiner’s possible involvement in the story.
There’s a lot we don’t know about this situation, and we haven’t seen Kleiner’s response to Pao’s lawsuit, which is due on June 13.
But the April Fortune post raises new questions.
UPDATE: We heard back from Dan Primack, the author of the Fortune post, and added his comment, which clarifies that his original sources were not people who worked at Kleiner Perkins.
If you know more about Ellen Pao and Kleiner Perkins, please email [email protected]. We are the soul of discretion.