Closing arguments underway in Ellen Pao gender discrimination trial

Closing arguments have begun in the gender discrimination suit between Ellen Pao and VC firm Kleiner Perkins

Ellen Pao's heated gender discrimination trial against prestigious venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers is drawing to a close, with each side taking final swipes Tuesday.

During a full day of closing arguments, Pao's lawyer Alan Exelrod contended that Kleiner Perkins, one of the top VC firms in Silicon Valley, fostered a sexist workplace culture that heavily favored men and relegated women to the lower rungs of the company.

"We are all here today because Kleiner Perkins broke the law," Exelrod said. "Kleiner Perkins discriminated against Ellen Pao, a woman. Kleiner Perkins retaliated against her because she protested that gender discrimination. Kleiner Perkins, however powerful and successful it is, cannot be above the law. It must adhere to the same standards as all employers."

He contended that Pao, 45, wasn't promoted at the Menlo Park, Calif., firm because she is a woman and was then fired in retaliation for speaking out against the discrimination.

"Men were judged by one standard and women by another. The leaders of Kleiner Perkins are the ones responsible for this double standard," Exelrod said.

Pao, he said, was a hard-working, incredibly productive employee who generated "more revenue for Kleiner Perkins than any of the other men who were promoted in 2012," the year she was fired.

Pao's job performance was "stellar" and "she was doing everything she was supposed to and she was never told termination was a possibility," he said.

Lynne Hermle, Kleiner Perkins’ attorney, vehemently disagreed. During her closing remarks, she slammed Pao as greedy, underperforming and not fit to be a venture capitalist at Kleiner Perkins, whose investments include Snapchat, Google, Twitter, Uber, Waze, Dropcam, Zynga, Genentech and Spotify. Pao is now interim chief executive of Reddit.

"Neither her gender nor any complaints was the driver in any of the events at issue here," Hermle said. "Like so many other misplaced accusations you’ve heard in the course of this trial, these claims are simply a continuation of Ellen Pao's attempts to blame others for her own failings.”

More than 150 reporters, lawyers and other observers packed into Judge Harold Kahn's courtroom in San Francisco Superior Court on Tuesday, crowding around the double exit doors, sitting cross-legged on the floor and perched on a ledge along the wall.

The case has drawn intense interest among the tech media and also among employment lawyers uninvolved in the case, who have studiously shown up to the proceedings as a kind of master class in employment law by two of the industry's most respected attorneys.

Pao looked at ease throughout the day, smiling and chatting with her lawyers.

The jury is being asked to rule on four claims: that Kleiner Perkins discriminated against Pao because of gender; that it retaliated against her by failing to promote her; that it failed to take reasonable steps to prevent gender discrimination against her; and that it retaliated against her by terminating her employment.

If the jury sides with the plaintiff, it will also decide the amount of compensatory damages to award.

Pao is seeking $16 million in lost wages and bonuses, and asking for an unspecified amount in punitive damages that could raise her total award to well over $100 million.

Hermle got through only half of her closing arguments Tuesday and will be back in court at 9 a.m. Wednesday. Afterward, Pao's lawyers will have the chance to respond before the jury begins deliberations.

Follow Andrea Chang and Tracey Lien on Twitter.

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