Last month, I described the high profile employment case of Pao v. Kleiner Perkins, in which a high level employee of the venture capital firm claimed sexual discrimination. The jury found in favor of the defendant, giving Ms. Pao nothing.
This case highlights that a plaintiff in this kind of case needs clear evidence of gender bias to prove her case. The jury did not believe that she provided enough evidence that she was treated differently because she was a woman. They believed that she was not promoted, and eventually fired, because of her poor performance. Often times, an employee believes that because she was treated badly, demoted, refused promotion, or fired, it must be because of her gender. An employee, or plaintiff in this case, needs to show that the motivation for a termination is gender. It is by definition hard to prove what someone is thinking, or motivated by, when s/he acts. No one says, “I’m going to demote you because you’re a woman.”
The case will hopefully be powerful at least to force employers to reconsider how and why they are acting and treat women more fairly.