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Kleiner partner leaves amid suit, firm says she's still on staff

By Sarah McBride

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A sexual harassment lawsuit that rocked Silicon Valley has taken another turn, with the Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers partner who filed the suit saying the firm told her on Monday to "leave and not come back."

The venture-capital firm, however, said she was still an employee.

"I have been terminated from my job at KPCB," Ellen Pao wrote in a post on the question-and-answer site Quora late Tuesday.

"On Monday afternoon, senior management told me to clean out my office, leave, and not come back." (http://tinyurl.com/8reczh5)

Kleiner Perkins, however, said Pao remained on staff for now. "Because of long-standing issues having no relationship or bearing on the litigation, Kleiner Perkins approached Ms. Pao to facilitate her transition, over an extended period of time, out of the firm," a Kleiner Perkins spokeswoman said in a statement.

"The proposed terms, that did not require Ms. Pao to waive any legal rights or claims, are generous, fair, and intended to support Ms. Pao in a successful career transition."

Pao's lawyer, Alan Exelrod, said in a brief phone interview that he would file a new charge with California authorities later Wednesday, alleging Kleiner Perkins' move to keep Pao from work was retaliation for Pao's lawsuit. In addition, Exelrod plans to amend Pao's lawsuit to add retaliation and discrimination charges stemming from Kleiner Perkins' actions, he said.

Pao's May lawsuit against the firm alleged harassment and gender discrimination. It painted a picture of a firm where complaints against harassment were ignored, where a senior partner suggested that marrying the alleged harasser might be the solution to Pao's difficulties and where women were labeled "buzz" kills.

In its June response to Pao's suit, Kleiner Perkins denied Pao's charges. It also said Pao's performance was lacking in some areas, including in "thought leadership."

Pao has been involved in successful investments such as RPX Corp., the patent company, according to the Kleiner Perkins website. RPX raised $159.6 million in an initial public offering last year.

Pao is still listed on the firm's website as an employee, with responsibility for start-ups 41st Parameter, an Internet-fraud prevention company; Crittercism, a mobile-app service; Datameer, an analytics company; Flipboard, an online social-magazine company; iControl, a home-monitoring company; and Lehigh Technologies, a green-materials company.

Kleiner management told Pao she must "transition off" the boards she sits on, Exelrod said. She currently serves on the Datameer, Flipboard and Lehigh Technologies boards.

As recently as a few weeks ago, Pao was doing due diligence into potential future investments for Kleiner Perkins, according to a partner at another major venture capital firm who said Pao approached him informally about co-investing in an enterprise company.

Pao planned to bring the company to the attention of other Kleiner Perkins partners for consideration as a portfolio investment, said the partner at the rival firm, who declined to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the case.

He did not pursue the investment, believing he lacked expertise in the sector and doubting that Pao would be able to enlist the cooperation of her partners while engaged in a lawsuit against them.

"Since this whole lawsuit has been filed, she has been continuing to do her work," said Exelrod, Pao's lawyer. He did not know the last company Pao had brought to her partners for Kleiner Perkins' backing. A Kleiner Perkins spokeswoman had no comment on details of Pao's recent work.

Throughout the lawsuit, Pao has been going into work and attending Kleiner Perkins events, which a person familiar with the matter said has been awkward for other employees.

In July, a judge turned down the firm's attempt to move the case into arbitration. Kleiner said it was appealing that decision; its brief is due November 8.

(Reporting By Sarah McBride; Editing by M.D. Golan)

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