What To Say When Sued?

ELLENPAO What To Say When Sued?

PR Verdict: “C” for venture capital firm Kleiner and its handling of Ellen Pao's lawsuit.

What’s the wisest thing to say when being sued? That must have been the question Silicon Valley’s favourite venture capital firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers asked itself when recently probed about its sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit.  “We will defend ourselves vigorously” was its unimaginative statement to the media.  Ho hum at best.

The NY Times has taken up the pending case of Ellen Pao a junior partner at the firm, hired several years ago to work as Chief of Staff to one of the firm’s higher ups.  Trouble started brewing when another junior partner made sexual advances to her.  She consented a couple of times and then, as they say in the movies, she called the whole thing off.  The claim alleges that as a result of ending the relationship, her thwarted paramour started a five-year campaign of retaliation.

The filing alleges systemic discrimination against Pao and other women, including poorer pay than her male counterparts and the distribution of less lucrative investment opportunities to women in the firm, while juicy assignments go to male colleagues.  In brief the main complaint is that the firm fails to give women the full range of opportunities to be successful.  Presumably this is not the sort of publicity that Silicon Valley’s leading venture capital firm wants or needs?

The PR Verdict: “C” for Kleiner and its handling of this story.  Wasn’t there an opportunity to go further than the standard PR response?

The PR Takeaway:  The power of the archive is strong.  The firm, even if it settles on undisclosed terms, now has a major article in the internet archive that raises many questions. True the article did draw attention to it having more female partners than peers  but being more vocal in defense of the firm might have been a better tactic.  A female partner defended the firm saying  “I was drawn to the firm because of its diversity and have excelled here as have other women. …Everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed”.   Why not say the same thing from a corporate point of view and come out in the media as strongly as the defense planned for the courtroom?  What would have been the harm done?

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Getting Naked with John Travolta

johntravolta Getting Naked with John Travolta

The PR Verdict: “B” for Travolta who was quick with a robust and unequivocal denial.

What else is there to know about John Travolta and his genitals?  According to a thrillingly prurient and detailed lawsuit filed by an unnamed masseur at the Beverly Hills Hotel, the public now knows more than it ever expected.  After recovering from allegedly being groped by the iconic star, the distressed masseur is now suing Travolta for damages.

Seeking $2 million (what might have been claimed if they went all the way?) the masseur’s filing (his name has been withheld) gives a minute-by-minute retelling.  He claims Travolta’s erect penis is approximately 8 inches in length and his pubic hair is “wirey (sic) and unkempt.”  Travolta, on being rebuffed, yelled “Hollywood is controlled by homosexual Jewish men who expect favors in return for sexual activity.”   Undoubtedly an odd response… but bring on the headlines!  They’re guaranteed!

Team Travolta responded with indignation and anger. “Untrue!”  and “False!”   None of the events claimed ever occurred, said his rep.  Besides, Travolta wasn’t in LA at the time of the alleged incident.   The rep said they would fight it and once thrown out, cross sue the masseur for malicious prosecution.   But hold on!  Now a second masseur has come out and joined the Californian lawsuit, claiming Travolta made similar moves at a hotel room in Atlanta.

The PR Verdict: “B” for team Travolta who were quick off the mark with a robust and unequivocal denial. Credibility is going to be strained though if additional complainants join the lawsuit.

PR Takeaway:  As complicating facts emerge it becomes tougher to stick with flat out denials and indignation.   Why not feign indifference?  What a frivolous and cynical lawsuit!  We have handed it to our lawyers.  Point out that Travolta wasn’t even there on the night in question while conceding agreement on three points: the masseur is suing for $2 million in damages, he never approached the police and he filed his opportunistic complaint anonymously.  Next question?

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Who would you place money on? Team Travolta or the Masseur.

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