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Silicon Valley gender discrimination suit captivates industry

A high-profile employment discrimination lawsuit has Silicon Valley businesses doing a lot of soul-searching, it appears. Whether this will lead to real changes in how female employees are treated in the tech field remains to be seen.

Readers have probably heard of the suit, which has received a great deal of media coverage. The plaintiff, a former junior partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a venture capital firm, sued the company for gender discrimination and wrongful termination. Trial ended on March 25, leaving it to the jury to deliberate.

The plaintiff is one of many women in California’s tech industry who have said they are treated as inferior to their male colleagues. Complaints of unequal pay, lost promotions and a hostile “brogrammer” environment are common.

In this case, the woman said, male colleagues would discuss pornography in her presence. One time, a partner sent her a book of “sexual poetry,” to use the Los Angeles Times’ description. Kleiner Perkins allegedly sent male employees, but no women, to a dinner with Al Gore. When the plaintiff asked why, she says, she was told that woman would “kill the buzz” at the event.

She eventually complained about this behavior, and was fired. Her lawsuit accuses Kleiner Perkins of gender discrimination retaliation. She says she was not promoted and later fired as revenge for speaking up about discrimination at the firm. She is seeking lost wages and bonuses, plus punitive damages that could mean a verdict of as much as $160 million, if the jury sides with her.

No matter the outcome of this case, observers say, it has caused many companies in the tech industry to examine how they treat their female employees. Perhaps this will give women more opportunities to work and advance in the industry, without having to deal with sexual harassment and discrimination.

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