“What brush do you bend when dusting your shoulders from being offended?” — Kendrick Lamar

Ellen Pao
AbovetheLaw.com: Ellen Pao

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination “based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.” Many of us recognize this familiar language, but the actual definition of “discrimination” remains nebulous. As New Yorker writer Vauhini Vara notes, the courts’ definitions for “discrimination” have evolved over time, along with social norms.

Employment lawyers like Kathleen Lucas are closely monitoring Ellen Pao’s sex-discrimination case against Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers because they believe the verdict could have big potential implications in the venture capital and tech industries. The outcome of Pao’s case may not have a direct impact on a firm’s culture, but it could give occasion for others who feel discriminated against to address inequities in the workplace.

Currently, Pao is the interim chief executive of Reddit. She filed this suit against her former firm in 2012, but the trial kicked off just last month. Pao is accusing her former firm of “allowing her to be sexually harassed by male managers, of punishing and eventually firing her when she complained, and of excluding her and other women from business meetings, dinners and promotions.” She is seeking $16 million for lost wages and potential future earnings.

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