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Former partner now accuses Kleiner Perkins of wrongful termination

As we discussed on this blog back in July, a female partner at tech-venture capital giant Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers LLC in Silicon Valley has sued the firm for sexual harassment and gender discrimination. According to her complaint, women at Kleiner Perkins were referred to as “buzz kills,” and a supervisor had apparently told the woman that, if she didn’t like being propositioned at work, she might consider marrying her harasser.

The firm strongly denied her allegations and had been seeking to resolve the claims through arbitration.

You might think the public discussion of the case would have died down after a few months — even considering the debate about women in high-power tech roles that erupted in response. It might have, but Kleiner Perkins has now fired the female partner. They have also directed her to resign from all corporate boards she serves on as a result of her employment with the firm.

She was coldly fired on Monday, and she appears to have been given no credible reason for her termination. Naturally enough, she assumes that she was fired in retaliation for filing the sexual harassment and discrimination complaint. She has therefore filed a complaint against the venture capital giant with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing — the first step in filing a wrongful termination lawsuit.

Firm explains termination as support for a ‘successful career transition’

As the Huffington Post pointed out, Kleiner Perkins released an obnoxious statement explaining the firing:

Because of longstanding issues having no relationship or bearing on the litigation, Kleiner approached [the female partner] to facilitate her transition, over an extended period of time, out of the firm. The proposed terms, that did not require [her] to waive any legal rights or claims, are generous, fair and intended to support [her] in a successful career transition.

Ultimately, the courts or an arbitrator will have to determine whether Kleiner had any legitimate reason to fire the female partner — and if such a reason would be a mere pretext for retaliation.

Meanwhile, Kleiner’s demand that she resign from the client company boards upon which she serves could become a contentious issue. While the firm designated her for the boards, which is common in venture capital arrangements, her continued service on them may not be up to Kleiner. While it is unlikely that either party wants to embroil the client companies in the dispute, Kleiner’s demand makes that difficult to avoid.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, “ELLEN PAO’S LAWYER: Kleiner Perkins Just Fired Her-And We’re Filing A Wrongful-Termination Complaint,” Owen Thomas, Business Insider, Oct. 3, 2012

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