In a letter to John Doerr in 2012, Ellen Pao alleged she had recieved a “demotion” when she wasn’t made a general partner at Kleiner Perkins that year, court documents reveal.
Pao is suing Kleiner for gender discrimination. She’s seeking $US16 million in damages.
“I am writing to register my disappointment and concern regarding the impact of the reorg/refresh on me,” said Pao, who was a junior partner. “The role to which I have been relegated is, I believe, a demotion.”
In her letter, Pao implied Kleiner didn’t promote her and another colleague, Trae Vassallo, because of their gender and complaints they had made about being discriminated against and harrassed.
“Unfortunately, it does not seem to be a coincidence that Trae and I — the two people who have made recent complaints of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation — have been kept off the committee and are relegated to more junior status,” she said.
But Doerr testified today that Kleiner was downsizing for its upcoming fund, Fund 15.
“Heading into KPCB 15, we felt it was time to refresh, renew, and reorganize the partnership,” said Doerr.
Kleiner promoted Vassallo and three men to be general partners of that fund: Wen Hsieh, Amol Deshpande, and Chi-Hua Chien.
But Pao’s lawyer, Alan Exelrod, said Vassallo testified that she had originally been told she wasn’t going to be a general partner in that fund. The implication is that she was promoted in part because she’d complained about sexual harrassment.
Doerr denied that there was ever any discrimination at the firm. “We, including me, met with Trae, met with Ellen, and explained that there’s not discrimination, retaliation, or harassment at KP,” testified Doerr.
Doerr said he told Pao she didn’t have the necessary interpersonal skills to become a general partner.
Exelrod, Pao’s attorney, claimed Doerr told Stephen Hirschfeld — who had investigated Vassallo’s and Pao’s claims — that Pao had a “female chip on her shoulder,” though Doerr didn’t recall making that comment.