Photo: Sam Pullara, Flickr
Kleiner Perkins has fired Ellen Pao, the partner who recently sued the firm for sexual harassment, her lawyer has confirmed.”On Monday, Ellen was told to clean out her office and not come back,” Pao’s attorney, Alan Exelrod, told us.
“She was told to turn in her computer and that she’d have no further access to company documents. She has 30 days to transition off of her company boards.”
Pao and Kleiner are embroiled in a lawsuit that began with a sex scandal at the firm, after Pao slept with a colleague. Pao alleges that that partner and others at the firm retaliated against her after she complained of gender discrimination and sexual harassment; Kleiner has strongly denied her charges. The case is tied up in appeals court over issues related to arbitration.
Until now, Pao has kept working at Kleiner despite the ongoing litigation, a situation that must have been extremely awkward for all involved. But now Kleiner has ended that arrangement. And Pao’s not taking it lightly. Or quietly.
As a response to the firing, Exelrod says, Pao is filing a complaint with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing, a first step towards adding a claim of wrongful termination to the other charges she’s leveled against the storied venture-capital firm.
Exelrod’s statement echoes a post Pao made on Quora earlier this week, in which she noted she’d been fired.
Kleiner put a different spin on things: The firm wants to help Pao “transition” to a new job…somewhere else.
Here’s Kleiner’s statement:
Because of longstanding issues having no relationship or bearing on the litigation, Kleiner approached Ms. Pao to facilitate her transition, over an extended period of time, out of the firm. The proposed terms, that did not require Ms. Pao to waive any legal rights or claims, are generous, fair and intended to support Ms. Pao in a successful career transition.
So the terms of separation offered appear to allow Pao to file her employment claim with the state of California. But the requirement to leave her boards could still embroil Kleiner in fresh trouble.
Pao serves on the board of Datameer, Lehigh Technologies, and Flipboard. Flipboard CEO Mike McCue has spoken up in Pao’s defence, although he’s also close to Kleiner and its lead partner, John Doerr.
It’s not clear how Kleiner will force Pao off the company boards if she doesn’t voluntarily resign. While venture-capital firms typically get the right to designate a board member, the election of a board member requires a shareholder vote at most companies.
So the board seats could, in theory, become a contentious issue. Pao has alleged that Kleiner deprived her of at least one portfolio company board seat, which could have added to her earnings and prestige.
That said, it’s unlikely that either Pao or Kleiner wants to embroil the startups she’s backed in the dispute.
Pao is still listed on the Kleiner Perkins website, with a Kleiner email address. So it appears that Kleiner is willing to let Pao present herself as still at Kleiner while looking for a new job.
But according to her lawyer, Pao didn’t want to misrepresent herself.
“Ellen wants to look for work and do it in a way that’s forthright and direct,” Exelrod said.