Jun 29

Jackson Law

Lessons of the Silicon Valley Sex Discrimination Case

by Jackson Law

Now that the dust has settled from the highly-publicized trial of the case brought by Ellen Pao against her former venture capital firm, Kleiner Perkins, what lessons can we take from this discrimination case?                    

For employees contemplating suing their employer, one lesson is there is safety in numbers.  Ms. Pao was a lone voice testifying about the alleged discrimination she suffered while working at the firm.  The company, on the other hand, had a small army of employees who testified Ms. Pao was not promoted because she was difficult to get along with, didn’t understand the business, etc., etc.  This is a common strategy in employment discrimination trials.  The defendant company rallies the troops and presents a unified front of testimony contradicting virtually everything the plaintiff employee claims.  It is easier for the jury to believe 20 witnesses all saying the same thing.  If there had been more than one plaintiff employee claiming the same type of discriminatory behavior, it would be more difficult for the company to claim this was just a disgruntled misfit. 

For the employer, one takeaway is that no matter how small your company, you need Human Resources expertise, whether in-house or outsourced.  There were many missed opportunities for Kleiner Perkins to avoid having to face the publicity, not to mention the expense, of this case.  If you do not have the expertise or resources to deal with complaints of discrimination by your employees, be sure to get help immediately.   

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