Far out Friday: Erotic poetry comes out at $16 million discrimination trial

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Ellen Pao is suing her past employer to the tune of $16 million and, in the quest to prove senior execs were gender discriminative, she’s shared an unusual anecdote in court.

The current interim CEO of social media site Reddit says she was given an inappropriate gift by senior partner Randy Komisar while working at venture capitalist firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

The unsuitable gift? – A collection of erotic poems and sketches by singer Leonard Cohen.

Komisar admits giving Pao the sexually explicit “Book of Longing” as a Valentine’s Day present but insists the offering was simply a friendly exchange between co-workers – one he felt compelled to engage in out of guilt.

"I felt guilty. She had given me two very nice [Christmas] gifts and I knew that Ellen was quick to take slight and see the negative," Komisar told the court. "I was worried she would think I wasn’t reciprocating."

However, Pao says Komisar’s gift made her uncomfortable as it was followed months later by an invitation to dinner – in which Komisar mentioned his wife way away. Again, Komisar offered an alternative explanation to the court – insisting the comment was simply small talk rather than an attempt at romance.

Trained lawyer Pao claims the incidents are illustrative of the systematic sexual discrimination present at the male-dominated firm and says she was passed over for a promotion purely because she was female.

Kleiner Perkins lawyers are arguing that Pao’s work just wasn’t up to scratch and insist the CEO “repeatedly and consistently seeks to twist facts, circumstances and events.''

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  • Andrew Barker on 2015-03-20 12:47:48 PM

    The social pressure of reciprocity takes some strange forms. In the workplace, I have come to dislike hugging or any form of "embrace" other than the handshake. I really do not need the headache. Over that past 35 years of workplace experience, I have been approached on at least 10 occasions by women and men who would have put me an a compromised situation because of our respective roles - all knew I was in a committed relationship at the time. I struggled with finding the right balance and for a time was downright hostile to the notion of a friendly hug or social engagement outside of work, but to be perfectly honest, keeping the boundaries crystal clear has served me well. And, in the end I got respect for my somewhat "cold disposition". I'm somewhat more relaxed now, mainly because I'm not concerned about the consequences of showing that "icy" side of my personality. I think of it as part of my style.

    That said, I am an adult, not a witless child, and if someone does make an overture, I don't claim sexual harassment, but just take command of the situation and deal with it decisively, either with an cold rejection or rolling my eyes and shaking my head. Then, I put it behind me. This is common sense and I find it more than a little hard to believe that other "adults" are incapable of the same. Situations like these reek of opportunism.

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