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Gender Bias in Silicon Valley and Beyond

By William Vogeler, Esq. on March 14, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Two years ago this month, one of the nation's biggest venture capital firms prevailed in the most-watched gender discrimination case in the history of the Silicon Valley.

Ellen Pao, a former partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, accused her former employer of discriminating against her because of her sex. The firm, which has funded Google, Amazon, and hundreds of tech companies, won the lawsuit and then quietly moved on.

As for gender discrimination in the Silicon Valley, however, not so much. According to reports, women are still fighting an uphill battle for equality in the high tech hub of the world.

Elephant in the Valley

According to a survey of 200 women in the Silicon Valley and San Francisco Bay Area last year, a majority of respondents said they experienced some form of gender discrimination in the workplace. At least 65% of women reported unwanted sexual advances from superiors at work, and as many as 88% said they received demeaning comments from male colleagues.

The survey reflects a reality about discrimination lawsuits against Silicon Valley firms: they are increasing. Employment lawyers say women from the tech industry continue to complain about sexual harassment and discrimination, reports USA Today, and they are not letting up.

"You would think by now that these sorts of harassment issues would not come up as often, that people would be more knowledgeable, more sensitive, more trained," said David Lowe, partner with Rudy, Exelrod, Zieff & Lowe, whose firm represented Pao. "But the publicity from these cases has not made a dent in the number of cases we have seen."

Human resource managers and their lawyers are partly to blame, if they are not educating business clients about employment standards. It is especially egregious when lawyers are suing lawyers over sex discrimination.

Lawyers Suing Lawyers

Last year, women filed gender discrimination lawsuits against three different BigLaw firms -- including one at the San Francisco-based firm of Sedgwick. The string of suits do not focus on Silicon Valley discrimination, but they illustrate a culture of discrimination that allegedly permeates start-up tech firms.

Traci Ribeiro, who worked in the Chicago office of the firm, filed a class-action on behalf of women who received unequal pay there. In her complaint, she alleged that a female associate was being paid $50,000 less than a male worker who was less productive. Another woman was underpaid $40,000 each year.

As an aspiring equity partner, Ribeiro said she hit the glass ceiling because of a culture of discrimination. She alleged one firm leader told her, "Don't worry, we're not going to bring you out to the woodshed."

"Discussion of a spanking has no place in a conversation about a female professional's prospects," the complaint alleges.

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