A judge ruled that fired venture capitalist Ellen Pao can seek punitive damages in her closely watched sex discrimination lawsuit against her former employer, the elite vc outfit Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers. Pao is suing for $16 million in lost wages and future earnings. But Judge Harold Kahn concluded that there is “sufficient evidence from which a reasonable juror could conclude that Kleiner Perkins engaged in intentional gender discrimination, that Kleiner Perkins acted with malice, fraud or oppression.” That could push the total to $160 million, according to reports.
The case is being closely watched because Silicon Valley is known for both its huge money deals and also for its male-dominated culture. CNN, utilizing data from U.S. Department of Labor, recently put together a good interactive look at the real story of diversity in Silicon Valley–and the numbers bear out the notion that it’s a tough place for women to get ahead. If Ellen Pao wins her case–essentially a beta test for sex discrimination cases in Silicon Valley–it will be much harder to claim that the lopsided figures are mostly circumstantial (more male engineers, etc.), rather than the product of widespread institutional discrimination.