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Sexual harassment suit shakes Silicon Valley

The computer and technology industry has been historically dominated by men. Although these men are not the stereotypical chauvinists that many might imagine they have come under scrutiny as of late. A junior partner in the well-respected venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers recently filed a sexual harassment claim against the California company and her coworkers. The company is known for garnering venture capital for such noted start-up technology enterprises as Google.

The plaintiff claims that she became the victim of retaliation after she blocked the sexual advances of a colleague. Many in the media have used the lawsuit to point out that the world of venture capitalism is plagued with outdated gender roles while sexual discrimination remains a normal practice. The lawsuit alleges that one male executive at the firm told the plaintiff that women will never succeed in the firm because women are quiet. Another male executive is alleged to have said that women were purposely not invited to an important business dinner based upon their gender.

The complaint alleges that the inappropriate sexual advances began almost immediately upon the plaintiff's employment. The plaintiff says she eventually did give into the junior male partner's approaches on several occasions, but that he retaliated against her after she ended the very brief relationship. The plaintiff claims the retaliation continued for approximately five years.

Despite the allegations, the Kleiner firm is known for being more open to hiring women than other similar companies. One-fourth of the firm's 50 partners are women. The allegations of sexual harassment are also shocking because the California firm has worked hard at maintaining its image of being a progressive thinking enterprise.

While it remains to be seen what the result of the sexual harassment claims will be, they have already brought an increased focus on the purported underside of the male-dominated Silicon Valley culture.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Lawsuit Shakes Foundation of a Man's World of Tech," David Streitfeld, The New York Times, June 6, 2012

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