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Kleiner Perkins case heads to court

July 10, 2012: 11:30 AM ET

Landmark VC gender discrimination trial kicks off today.

FORTUNE -- So much for those who believed the Ellen Pao vs. Kleiner Perkins case wouldn't reach a courtroom. It's happening, this morning at 9:30am PT in San Francisco Superior Court.

No, this won't be where all the case specifics get hashed out, skeletons ripped out of closets, etc. Instead, a judge will rule whether or not the firm can compel arbitration (i.e., make this the first and last court appearance, rather than just the first).

It seems unlikely that Kleiner will win this motion, given that the judge yesterday wrote: "There is no arbitration agreement between plaintiff and defendant."

That was just a tentative sentiment, with Kleiner lawyers still able to argue their points today before a final ruling.

But let's assume the judge throws out Kleiner's motion, and Pao's claim proceeds in the light of day. A few thoughts:

1. I'm torn as to whether or not this case will ultimately go to trial, but am edging toward the affirmative. First, let's remember that the two sides held private settlement talks before Pao filed suit, and I'm told that the framework of an agreement was in place. Then something, or someone, blew the whole thing up. In other words, they've already tried the settlement thing once.

Moreover, I'm not sure Kleiner Perkins wants the PR hit of making it look like the firm is trying to buy off Pao before embarrassing details get released. Well, unless Pao is right and the details are so gruesome that exposure would be worse than expensing...

2. One of Pao's major claims is that she and other female junior partners were paid less than their male counterparts (in the form of carried interest). This could be easily verified by employment contracts, but also is something that Kleiner is asking to keep confidential. Unclear if the judge today will also rule on that confidentiality request (which would be rendered moot if arbitration is approved).

3. Speaking of confidentiality, got to wonder if Pao will identify the other junior female partner who allegedly complained about gender discrimination. Will this woman be asked to testify?

More to come when the judge issues his ruling...

UPDATE: The judge denied Kleiner's motion to compel arbitration, as expected. But he also opened up a new window by letting Kleiner reintroduce its arbitration on more specific grounds, after the firm's attorneys argued that the management company's LLC was party to some arbitration agreements signed with individual funds. In a statement, Kleiner Perkins said:

KPCB is encouraged by Judge Kahn's willingness to hear our arguments on third party beneficiary and equitable estoppel claims.  The firm will file its motions by July 13th to be heard in a supplementary hearing on July 20th.   KPCB continues to believe it has strong arguments and precedent to move the matter to arbitration.  Ms. Pao, like other partners, signed a variety of standard agreements requiring, among other things, that all disputes be resolved through arbitration.  We expect arbitration to be a more efficient and speedier dispute resolution process than trying a matter before a jury years down the line in the San Francisco Superior Court.

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Dan Primack
Dan Primack
Senior Editor, Fortune

Dan Primack joined Fortune.com in September 2010 to cover deals and dealmakers, from Wall Street to Sand Hill Road. Previously, Dan was an editor-at-large with Thomson Reuters, where he launched both peHUB.com and the peHUB Wire email service. In a past journalistic life, Dan ran a community paper in Roxbury, Massachusetts. He currently lives just outside of Boston.

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