Many women in technology believe Silicon Valley is stuck in the past. They say they are rarely hired, promoted or taken seriously, and are confronted on a daily basis by sexism and harassment. They feel demeaned and discouraged.
Now, in a high-profile suit set to go to trial this week, a jury will pass judgment about whether one woman suffered discrimination. The proceedings could resonate widely: A guilty verdict will be billed as a sweeping indictment of the high-tech world, while a dismissal might supply ammunition to those who feel gender issues are being overplayed.
The accuser is Ellen Pao, who worked at one of the valley's most prominent venture capital firms, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. At the center of the suit is John Doerr, a legendary investor who was Ms. Pao's boss and, according to court papers, practically a father to her. How the man with the Midas touch let his very proud, very image-conscious shop become embroiled in scandal is a question lurking behind the suit.
Ms. Pao says a married colleague pressured her into an affair and then retaliated against her when she broke it off. When she complained, she says she was discriminated against and got poor reviews, resulting ultimately in her dismissal. She accuses Kleiner of treating her "despicably, maliciously, fraudulently and oppressively" from "an improper and evil motive amounting to malice."
Kleiner fired back last week in a scorched-earth response filed in civil court here, saying the affair was consensual and there was no discrimination. Ms. Pao did not succeed at Kleiner, the firm said, because she "lacked the ability to lead others, build consensus and be a team player, which is crucial to a successful career as a venture capital senior investing partner."