Win or Lose, Discrimination Suit Has an Effect on Silicon Valley

She was a junior partner at one of Silicon Valley's most powerful venture capital firms. But was Ellen Pao a greedy underperformer? Or was she a victim of a sexist corporate culture?

That's the choice confronting a jury in a trial that has riveted an industry struggling to attract and keep talented women in the workforce.

Ellen Pao vs. Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers wrapped up Wednesday after weeks of testimony exposed salacious details of workplace trysts, all-male outings, porn talk and alleged routine harassment. Jurors must decide whether the firm discriminated against Pao, 45, because she is a woman, and then fired her in retaliation after she sued in 2012.

"Even before there's a verdict in this case, and regardless of what the verdict is, people in Silicon Valley are now talking," said Kelly Dermody, managing partner at Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, who chairs the San Francisco law firm's employment practice group.

"People are second-guessing and questioning whether there are exclusionary practices [and] everyday subtle acts of exclusion that collectively limit women's ability to succeed or even to compete for the best opportunities. And that's an incredibly positive impact."

Women in tech have long complained about an uneven playing field -- lower pay for equal work, being passed over for promotions and a hostile "brogrammer" culture -- and have waited for a catalyst to finally overhaul the status quo.

This trial -- pitting a disgruntled, multimillionaire former junior partner against a powerful Menlo Park, Calif., venture capital firm -- was far from the open-and-shut case that many women had hoped for. And Pao, portrayed as an uncooperative and conflict-ridden worker "with sharp elbows," makes a less-than-ideal test case for gender bias in Silicon Valley.

"She's not the most likable person in the world, but the kinds of evidence she's alleged does track some of these...

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