Ellen Pao has maintained a low profile since news of her sex discrimination lawsuit against a Menlo Park venture capital firm broke four months ago. The junior investment partner surfaced with a post on Quora in June stating she still worked at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, but now that's changed.
"Update: I have been terminated from my job at KPCB. On Monday afternoon, senior management told me to clean out my office, leave, and not come back," she posted on Wednesday (Oct. 3).
As with much else in this case, what happened appears to depend on where you're standing.
"Ms. Pao remains an employee of the firm, however, because of long standing issues having no relationship or bearing on the litigation, Kleiner approached Ms. Pao to facilitate her transition, over an extended period of time, out of the firm. The proposed terms, that did not require Ms. Pao to waive any legal rights or claims, are generous, fair and intended to support Ms. Pao in a successful career transition," a Kleiner Perkins spokeswoman said.
Meanwhile, the discrimination lawsuit continues, with KPCB appealing a judge's ruling against forcing the case to arbitration.
Ms. Pao, who earned both a law degree and an MBA from Harvard, filed the lawsuit on May 10 after working at Kleiner Perkins for seven years. The suit alleges that the firm discriminates against women for promotions and compensation, and retaliated against her after she complained about harassment by a peer who allegedly pressured her into a brief sexual relationship.
The lawsuit details specific instances of gender exclusion, including a company ski trip in January 2012 and several dinners to which only male employees were invited. The host of one event reportedly said that inviting women would "kill the buzz."
In its rebuttal, Kleiner Perkins said, "On the contrary, a dinner to which Plaintiff appears to refer to as male-only was, in fact, attended by male and female KPCB partners, and male and female entrepreneurs and leaders."
The firm's response claims Ms. Pao has "twisted facts and events in an attempt to create legal claims where none exist." The filing references an independent investigator who interviewed 17 partners, including every female partner at the time, "provided Plaintiff multiple opportunities to provide information and documents, and, after a thorough review, concluded the Plaintiff's discrimination and retaliation complaints were without merit."
The long-standing issues referred to in the company's statement regarding the separation agreement with Ms. Pao are performance-related, according to attorney Lynne Hermle, who represents the venture capital firm.
Kleiner Perkins in its rebuttal to the lawsuit cites reviews that questioned her initiative, interpersonal skills and ability to work as a team member. "Based solely on repeated and widespread performance concerns" raised by colleagues inside and outside the company, "Plaintiff did not earn the necessary support of her male and female partners for promotion."
Attorney Alan Exelrod, who represents Ms. Pao, was not immediately available for comment on Thursday morning, but told the Wall Street Journal the termination was retaliation for the lawsuit.