This morning presented interim Reddit CEO Ellen Pao a chance to tell her side of the storyin her gender discrimination lawsuit against venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, but the afternoon saw things get nasty as the opposition dug into every aspect of Pao’s story.
After a lunch break, it was Pao’s turn to get cross-examined by Lynne Hermle, the famously tough lawyer hired by Kleiner Perkins to represent the firm’s interests.
In the course of the cross-examination, Hermle — who once caused an opponent to throw up in the courtroom — threw some doubt on Pao’s assertions from this morning that all she wanted was a career in venture capital.
According to the Re/code live blog and witness accounts via Twitter, the two women were confrontational with each other, going back and forth on minor points (including, at one point, the amount of text on a page of a letter).
While a packed courtroom watched, Hermle threw intense, rapid-fire questions at Pao, with the goal of proving that maybe it wasn’t gender discrimination that caused Pao’s problems at the firm — maybe Pao just wasn’t cut out for the job, and maybe she wasn’t that good at it.
During her taped deposition, which was played during trial today, Pao told Hermle that she didn’t have a career goal in mind, she just wanted an “interesting job.”
When it came to Pao’s application to work at Kleiner Perkins, Hermle seized on the job requirements. The position called for the candidate to have a sense of humour, be intelligent, analytical, thorough, and humble.
“You understand what humble means, Ms. Pao,” Hermle asked.
“Modest, not arrogant, someone who does not exaggerate their skills,” Pao answered.
“It would also include someone who does not think they’re better than their partners?” Hermle countered.
By the time the questions got to Pao’s affair with former partner Ajit Nazre, the tone had been set. For instance, Pao testified that Nazre made a physical advance on her while she was dazed after getting hit by a taxi.
“You’re not trying to blame him for what happened to you are you, Ms Pao,” Hermle asked about the taxi accident.
“Not this part,” Pao replied, which got a laugh.
In April 2006, Nazre told Pao his wife had left him. Hermle provided the text of several flirty emails between Pao and Nazre, including reading the emoticon “smiley face” out loud. Hermle also dug for more information about the nature of their sex life, to visible cringing in the courtroom.
Eventually, by way of emails and text messages, Hermle showed a portrait of a very troubled couple, with the two uncertain how to split their home and professional lives — which was all rendered moot after another partner saw Nazre with his family at a hotel in California’s Half Moon Bay. Once Pao learned Nazre was still married, their relationship ended.
Yet throughout this time, Hermle says, Pao didn’t say anything to anyone else at Kleiner Perkins. And by May 2007, they were apparently on friendly terms when he offered Pao support during a surgery.
The details of this consensual relationship may seem like a tangent from the main point of the case, which is whether the firm discriminated against Pao and denied her promotions because of her gender. But by questioning her interest in venture capital and by portraying her relationship with Nazre as consensual but troubled, Hermle tried cast doubt on Pao’s earlier assertion that she was a victim who just wanted her story to be told.
The trial continues tomorrow.
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