Pao Wasn’t Alone Complaining That Kleiner Men Fared Better

Updated on

The woman who replaced Ellen Pao as Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers managing partner John Doerr's aide was known as “John’s gal,” an investigator hired to probe bias claims told jurors in a case that has put Silicon Valley’s male-dominated culture on trial.

Lila Ibrahim, a former Intel. Corp. executive who joined Kleiner in 2010 as Doerr's chief of staff, found that she was cut off and belittled in meetings by male partners and felt she “wasn’t given the time of day,” said the investigator, called as a witness by Pao. Some female partners complained about how the venture capital firm treated women, said the investigator, attorney Stephen Hirschfeld.

A woman who won a promotion to general partner and later left Kleiner, Trae Vassallo, said the firm’s managing partners provided more mentoring to male junior partners, Hirschfeld said Friday in San Francisco state court.

Later under cross-examination by Kleiner’s lawyer, Hirschfeld said other women painted a contrasting portrait of the firm. One female partner described the men as “almost choir boys” and another called the firm the least sexist place where she has worked.


Mary Meeker, who joined Kleiner the same year as Ibrahim after almost two decades at Morgan Stanley, said the firm was “almost church-like.”

Meeker, who’s been known since the 1990s as “Queen of the Net” for her command of the online business world, said that after working on Wall Street, Kleiner was “about the nicest, sweetest, tamest place I could ever imagine working,” according to Hirschfeld.

Pao, 45, who is scheduled to testify Monday, is seeking as much as $16 million in salary and bonuses she says she lost because Kleiner didn’t promote her and paid her less than male co-workers.

Pao’s lawyer, Therese Lawless, asked Hirschfeld to recount interviews supporting her argument that the firm tolerated a workplace that was hostile to women. Later, Kleiner lawyer Lynne Hermle, who has sought to show that the firm has long been a champion of women, got him to testify about the interviews that bolster its case.

17 People

Hirschfeld testified that he interviewed 17 people at the firm about Pao’s complaint. In the end, he said, he concluded there was nothing to it -- no evidence of discrimination, retaliation or a “sexually charged” atmosphere.

Hirschfeld, who testified he was paid $575 an hour by Kleiner, voiced doubt about Pao’s claim that a fellow junior partner pressured her into having sex in 2006.

He said he asked Pao during a five-hour interview whether the colleague forced her to have sex.

“I don’t know,” he said she told him. “I was in his room. We had sex. It was a nightmare.”

“Had he been hitting on you? Had you been flirting with him?” the investigator said he asked her. He said he was probing for every detail “because there wasn’t any context.”

Hotel Room

“No,” he said she responded. “Just out of the blue they went to his hotel room and had sex.

Ibrahim and Vassallo both told the investigator they had issues with the Kleiner environment.

‘‘It’s very hard to get in a word edge-wise when you have men with very big voices,’’ Ibrahim said, according to Hirschfeld. However, Ibrahim, who still works at the firm as an operating partner according to its website, didn’t claim discrimination.

She said she didn’t know whether her treatment was due to ‘‘gender bias” or was “personality driven,” Hirschfeld said.

Vassallo said that a man who started as a junior partner at the same time as her “seemed to have a lot more juice” in the firm, even though she believed she had earned the firm more profit, Hirschfeld said.

She also said the senior partners gave more mentoring attention to her male co-workers because “that’s who they feel comfortable with,” Hirschfeld testified. Vassallo remains a strategic adviser for Kleiner.

Risa Stack, another former partner, complained about the “aggressive, tough” atmosphere at the firm, but didn’t blame it on sexism, Hirschfeld said.


Instead, she attributed it to a high level of competitiveness. She and other partners said the firm had a “silo-driven” culture in which everyone was looking out for themselves, the investigator said.

Hirschfeld said Stack wasn’t much bothered about the firm’s male-only dinner parties and ski trips, both of which Pao complained about. Stack said the male-only gatherings were just cases of “bad optics,” he said.

She said, “What does it say to the outside community that we didn’t bring women?” Hirschfeld testified.

Hirschfeld said under questioning by Hermle that Meeker told him she thought Kleiner was ‘almost too staid’’ and needed to toughen up to compete in the increasingly competitive world of venture capital.

‘Seal Team’

“We’re like a Seal team,” Hirschfeld quoted her as saying, referring to the military’s elite Navy Seals. “We’re the best of the best. And that’s the people we want.”

Christina Lee, a spokeswoman for the Menlo Park, California-based firm, wasn’t available for comment on Friday’s testimony.

As the second week of the trial drew to a close, Pao’s 12-person jury lost a woman and gained a man, leaving the panel evenly split after a female juror had a family emergency Thursday and was replaced by a male alternate.

The case is Pao v. Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers LLC, CGC-12-520719, California Superior Court (San Francisco).