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High-ranking female workers suffer harassment, California suit suggests

A well-established California venture capital company is being sued by one of its female junior partners for sexual harassment and gender discrimination. The 42-year-old woman who filed the lawsuit in May has been employed by Kleiner, Perkins, Caulfield & Byers in Silicon Valley since 2005, where she says women are denied financially advantageous and high-ranking positions over men.

Kleiner has a solid venture capital investment reputation with billion-dollar success stories that include Amazon and Google. A former U.S. vice president and ex-secretary of state are among the company's senior-most partners. The 40-year-old company boasts "progressive" hiring policies with one in four senior partners who are women.

The plaintiff, a Harvard University graduate, contends Kleiner's is a male-centric organization with an unbreakable glass ceiling that stops women from advancement into high-paying positions. Kleiner is arguing that the employee's issues should be resolved privately in closed-door arbitration, a request that a judge has so far denied.

After the female employee filed her claim against Kleiner earlier this year, the venture capital firm requested that the case be moved to arbitration. This request has been denied twice. This means that the case will be public, which could produce negative publicity and possibly damage the firm's image and profits.

A highly-visible accounting of alleged gender bias may have an overall positive effect, though, on business practices in California if it shakes loose an alleged pattern of rampant discrimination against professional female employees.

A negative outcome or exposure of Kleiner's reportedly questionable hiring and promotion practices could send a strong legal message to other businesses that might attempt to suppress the promotion and pay of employees who are not male. It will certainly be interesting to see how this case plays out in California and if it will affect the treatment of other women in the workplace.

Source: Associated Press, "Sexual harassment lawsuit roils Silicon Valley," Paul Elias, July 19, 2012