A former principal at US firm Pantheon Ventures is suing over gender and age discrimination, as well as defamation, according to a lawsuit filed in Superior Court of California.
The suit charges that Carol Foster, a principal in her late 40s, missed out on key financial benefits the firm had promised her and lost sales territory to younger male colleagues, while a senior male partner derided her gathering of high-profile women in private equity as a "hen party".
Foster is asking for compensatory, punitive and special damages.
Pantheon representatives did not immediately respond to telephone and e-mailed requests for comment.
Lawsuits over accusations of gender discrimination have been rare in the male-dominated world of venture capital.
But four months ago, Ellen Pao, a partner at storied venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, sued that firm for sexual harassment and discrimination. The case has become one of the most talked-about events in Silicon Valley.
Like Pao, a graduate of Harvard and Princeton, Foster attended prestigious schools and has an impressive resume. She holds a business degree from Columbia University and worked at Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch.
Pantheon specialises in helping institutions invest in venture capital and private equity. With US$23.9 billion ($29.0 billion) under management in Europe, the United States and Asia, it is one of the field's larger players.
Foster started at the firm in September 2008 as head of the US$10b North American Client Service, according to the suit, but things quickly turned sour.
Shortly after she joined, the management team decided to merge her team with another, and Foster was given responsibility for managing relationships with clients in several parts of the country.
From 2009, the suit states, the company started chipping away at those responsibilities, including taking away all her East Coast clients and giving them to a new colleague. Another principal with existing clients on the East Coast had to give up only his prospects, not his clients, to the new hire.
With less territory, Foster believed she would not be able to sell as many of Pantheon's products to clients, the suit states. The cutbacks coincided with a weak fundraising market for fund-of-funds, one of Pantheon's main businesses.
Foster believes her compensation package was less than the compensation for male colleagues of similar positions, the suit says. Her offer letter from September 2008 stated the firm would award her a key financial payment known as carried interest, but she received no carried interest payments in 2009 or 2010, the suit says. She got her first carried interest awards in July 2011.
On December 14, 2011, Foster's direct manager, Kevin Albert, terminated her employment for not making her sales goals and lacking the "characteristics of a good salesperson". For the prior year, her performance rating was "exceeds expectations".
Other male employees, including Albert, had not made their sales goals but were not terminated, the suit states.
Just prior to her termination, Foster had organised a dinner for women in private equity, attended by a number of high-profile women who were clients or prospective clients. The next morning, Albert emailed her and asked: "How was the hen party?"
After her termination, Albert told Pantheon staff members Foster's employment had been terminated for performance issues, the lawsuit states. He also told a former client of Foster's that she could not "close on money with new clients".
Pantheon, now owned by senior partners and Affiliated Managers Group, was originally formed in London in 1982 as the private equity arm of GT Management.