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By Sarah McBride
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A high-profile Silicon Valley sex discrimination lawsuit moved closer to trial Wednesday after California's highest court rejected an effort by venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers to take a former partner's case against it to arbitration.
The suit, which pits former partner Ellen Pao against one of Silicon Valley's most storied venture capital firms, alleges harassment, discrimination and retaliation. It became the talk of the Valley last year with its references to an affair and its allegations - denied by the firm - of sexual advances and sexist behavior.
"I'm glad the court moved quickly after this series of delays from Kleiner, and that we're back on track to getting our day in court," Pao said in an email after the Supreme Court of California denied Kleiner's petition to review a lower court decision rejecting Kleiner's earlier attempt at arbitrating the case.
Kleiner said it believed the case was without merit.
"We intend to vigorously defend the matter and are confident we will prevail," said spokesperson Christina Lee in an email.
The firm had argued that Pao's suit, filed in May 2012, should move to the private process of arbitration because Pao signed operating agreements for the venture funds in which she was involved that had mandatory arbitration clauses.
Pao's lawyer, Alan Exelrod, has argued that the agreements did not apply because Pao was suing Kleiner itself - not its funds. Pao never signed any arbitration agreement with the firm itself, Exelrod has maintained.
Kleiner could still appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. If it does not, the case will return to San Francisco Superior Court to start the discovery phase, said Exelrod.
The case in Supreme Court of the State of California is Ellen Pao v Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers LLC and Does 1-20, case no. S212557.
(Reporting by Sarah McBride; Editing by Ciro Scotti)