SAN FRANCISCO — The woman behind a sex discrimination lawsuit against one of Silicon Valley's most prestigious venture capital firms testified Tuesday that the company repeatedly dismissed her attempts to open a discussion about gender bias then hired an antagonistic investigator to look into her complaint.
Plaintiff Ellen Pao took the stand for a second day in the high-profile case against Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, telling jurors the chief operating officer told her the company wanted her to leave after she filed a written bias complaint in 2012.
The 45-year-old Pao's lawsuit says she had been retaliated against for years then fired nine months after she filed the complaint and five months after she sued the firm.
Kleiner Perkins has denied wrongdoing and says Pao didn't get along with her colleagues and performed poorly as a junior partner.
The lawsuit has spotlighted gender imbalance at elite Silicon Valley investment companies that are stacked with some of the nation's most accomplished graduates — multiple degree holders from schools such as Harvard and Stanford who are competing aggressively to back the next Google or Amazon.
Women, however, are grossly underrepresented in the venture capital and technology sectors.
Pao testified that she sought $10 million from the firm in exchange for voluntarily leaving, saying she believed the figure would prompt the firm to change its treatment of women.
"I thought $10 million would be a meaningful number that would actually hit their radar," she said.
Pao did not receive the money and continued working at the firm. Her lawsuit is seeking $16 million in damages.
Pao also said Steve Hirschfeld, an investigator hired by Kleiner Perkins to look into her complaint, did not appear open to what she had to say.
"It felt antagonistic," she said. "There were times I felt he was grilling me about answers I didn't have."
Hirschfeld eventually concluded that Pao had not been retaliated against and there was no gender discrimination at the firm.
In her testimony Monday, Pao said she was given a poetry book by a senior partner in 2007 that featured drawings of naked women and poems on topics such as the longings of an older man for younger women. The partner also invited her to dinner one weekend, noting his wife would be out of town, she said.
"I thought it was strange, and it made me uncomfortable," Pao testified.
Pao acknowledged having an affair with a male colleague that she said began after he said his wife had left him. She said she broke it off when she learned that was a lie.
She said the colleague later retaliated by shutting her out of emails and meetings.
When she raised the retaliation issue with management, a senior partner explained how he had met his wife at another company while he was married, and perhaps Pao could have the same outcome with her colleague, she testified.
She said she repeatedly complained that the colleague was retaliating against her, but "Kleiner Perkins continued to do nothing."
Pao said it was humiliating not to be invited to an all-male dinner at Vice President Al Gore's apartment and have to explain to executives she ran into that she wouldn't be attending. Pao lived in the same building as Gore.
In another example of bias, she said she felt "very uncomfortable" about a conversation men were having about pornography aboard a private plane. The men were not Kleiner employees but had been invited by a senior Kleiner manager, who Pao's attorneys say was present but did nothing to stop the conversation.