A prestigious Silicon Valley venture firm on trial for alleged gender discrimination had different standards for men and women that led to the denial of a promotion to a female junior partner despite her accomplishments, her lawyer told jurors on Tuesday.
Lawyer Alan Exelrod made the claim in a packed courtroom during his closing argument in the lawsuit filed by Ellen Pao against Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
The suit has shined a light on gender imbalance in the technology and venture capital sectors and led some technology and venture capital companies to re-examine their cultures and practices -; even before the jury reaches a verdict.
"The evidence in this case compels the conclusion that men were judged by one standard and women by another," Exelrod said. "The leaders of Kleiner Perkins are the ones responsible for this double standard."
Lynne Hermle, an attorney for the firm, was expected to make her closing argument later in the day.
Pao's attorneys have portrayed her as the victim of a male-dominated culture at Kleiner Perkins where she was subjected to retaliation by a male colleague with whom she had an affair and a discussion about pornography aboard a private plane. She also testified that she received a book of erotic poetry from a male partner.
The lawsuit claims she was fired in 2012 after complaining about gender discrimination.
Exelrod called the firm a "boys club" and referenced trial testimony and emails from prominent venture capitalist John Doerr, a partner at Kleiner Perkins, to show that Pao had been successful at the company.
"This case should be about what Ms. Pao did for Kleiner Perkins," he said.
Among the accomplishments was convincing the firm to invest in a company that later enjoyed great success and helping two companies merge, Exelrod said.
Kleiner Perkins has countered that Pao was a chronic complainer who twisted facts and circumstances in her lawsuit and had a history of conflicts with colleagues that contributed to the decision to let her go.
Exelrod said two male colleagues of Pao had been promoted, even though one was called confrontational and another was accused of having "sharp elbows," an apparent reference to his treatment of other workers.
A judge ruled over the weekend that Pao can seek punitive damages that could add millions of dollars to a possible verdict in her favor. She is seeking $16 million in lost wages and bonuses.
Experts say Pao's case has increased awareness about seemingly small indignities faced by women in the technology and venture capital sectors. Consultant Freada Kapor Klein said she has recently been contacted by more than a dozen venture capital and technology companies asking her how they can improve the environment for women.
Klein, whose firm specializes in addressing bias in the workplace, declined to name the firms but said they approached her as a result of the Pao case.
During testimony, Pao told jurors that her lawsuit was intended in part to create equal opportunities for women in the venture capital sector.
Paul Gompers, a Harvard business school professor, was hired by Kleiner Perkins to conduct research about the venture capital industry. He testified that Kleiner Perkins placed more women on the boards of companies in which it invested than any of the 3,000 venture capital firms that he reviewed.
A study released last year by Babson College in Massachusetts found that women filled just 6 percent of partner-level positions at 139 venture capital firms in 2013, down from 10 percent in 1999.