Everyone knows that, in order to avoid a sexual discrimination lawsuit from your employees, certain boundaries must be established and enforced to make sure everyone is comfortable. What might be somewhat less well-known is that you need to be very clear when you are firing someone – or when you’re not firing them (it’s not yet clear which one is the case here).
Ellen Pao, a junior investment partner for Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, is currently suing them for sexual harassment and gender discrimination. Ms. Pao wrote on a question-and-answer web site, Quora, that she had been terminated from her job and senior management had told her to clean out her office, leave and never come back. Ms. Pao’s lawyer, Alan Exlrod, said that Ms. Pao “was cut off from access to company documents and told to transition off her corporate boards within 30 days”.
Kleiner Perkins said that Ms. Pao’s comments were “misleading” and that she remained an employee. The firm said that Ms. Pao was never told to clean out her office, but that she was approached about a 6 to 12 month “transition” plan. This plan supposedly consists of keeping her on the payroll and helping her find a new job.
Pao alleges that she was sexually harassed at work and punished for complaining about said harassment. She was allegedly cut out of investment decisions and profits and had her career opportunities limited after she complained of the harassment. Pao also alleges that gender discrimination is rampant at the firm, including lower pay, restriction on what investments they could make, and fewer opportunities to move up in the company.
The firm insists there is no such discrimination, that almost 25% of their senior and junior partners are female (and impressive number for the industry) and that Pao was held back for poor performance rather than her gender. They also insist that she only recently made complaints about the work environment shortly before filing the lawsuit, and that she was not punished for those complaints.
Judge Kahn of the San Francisco Superior Court recently ruled against the firm’s appeal to move the lawsuit to arbitration. The firm claims that Pao signed arbitration agreements with Kleiner funds, although she admittedly did not have one with the firm itself. Kahn ruled that, because the lawsuit is against the firm, rather than against Kleiner, the arbitration agreements do not apply.
The firm has said that it will continue to appeal this decision. Arbitration would be favorable to the firm in that it would be privately held and would likely be far less costly. As it is, the judge’s ruling forces the company to suffer through either an embarrassing public trial or an expensive settlement.
The employment class action attorneys at Chicago Overtime Law Center have decades of experience litigating wage and hour cases including overtime, meal breaks, vacation pay, and tips in Cook, Lake, Kane, DuPage, Will and McHenry counties. Our offices are conveniently located in Oakbrook Terrace and Chicago, Illinois. If you believe you are not being paid fair wages, contact a Aurora and Elgin overtime attorney today at 312-869-4095 or fill out our online form