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The assassination of Ellen Pao’s character by the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins | The Verge


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Hermle relied on that easy rapport with the courtroom when she began slicing up Pao’s testimony on Tuesday afternoon. She had one goal: convince the jury that a highly educated woman running a massively popular site like Reddit is amateurish and amoral without coming off like a bully.

For the first two weeks of the trial, Kleiner partners described Pao as unimpressive, someone who was unable to own a room. But when she finally spoke this week, Pao proved herself to be wry and confident — remaining defiant against Hermle’s rhetorical tricks like ending questions with an accusatory "didn’t you Ms. Pao?" or adding a deferential "Thank you for correcting me, Ms. Pao," every time the plaintiff pointed out something she didn't know.

A couple minutes before court closed yesterday, Judge Harold Kahn received a sizable stack of papers with hand-written questions for Pao from the jury. It seems they've been watchingthe showdown between Hermle and Pao just as closely as the rest of us.

When the trial began three weeks ago, Hermle’s opening argument made the case that Pao could be lawfully fired for being unlikable. She set out to show that again during cross. But first, Hermle had to establish Pao’s culpability in her affair with Nazre. Pao was single at the time and thought Nazre was separated from his wife. This is where some of some of Hermle’s most over-the-top lines came from, like "You knew he was married with small children?" and "At the time you began your sexual relationship you were 36 years old?" as if to imply she was too grown-up to fall for a predator. 

Kleiner must feel as though its character is being assassinated as well, but there was something absurd about watching an investment firm, which had $7 billion under management the year that Pao departed, bring its power to bear over Nazre, a flawed employee any way you cut it. Pao claims she rebuffed Nazre’s unwanted advances before their consensual relationship. The earliest example she’s given was during a business trip to Germany where Nazre asked for her hotel room number. "Rather than telling him, ‘I’m not comfortable with that,’ you gave him somebody else’s room number?" Hermle asked. It seemed like a risky anecdote to recount considering that Nazre was fired after showing up in a bathrobe and slippers outside the hotel room of Trae Vassallo, another female partner.

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