The Mark Hurd Sexual Harrassment Complaint: Should It Be Public?

The letter is the reason he left Hewlett-Packard. His lawyers, unsurprisingly, say it should remain private

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The latest twist in Mark Hurd's tabloid-filled departure from Hewlett-Packard is the suppression of Jodie Fisher's sexual harassment complaint. The lawyers representing HP shareholders want to make the eight-page letter public, but Hurd's Lawyers "filed a motion to keep the letter under wraps," The Wall Street Journal reports. The letter reportedly describes details of Fisher and Hurd's alleged affair. Fisher, an actress in softcore flicks including Intimate Obsession and Body of Influence 2, worked closely with Hurd as an events hostess. Her complaint precipitated his departure from H-P and subsequent employment at Oracle, all of which spawned a slew of legal battles. Why does the letter matter? Here's what's buzzing in the business blogosphere:

  • Why the Letter Matters  Ben Worthen at The Wall Street Journal explains:
If Judge Parsons decides to lift the seal, the public will get its first look at the allegations that set in motion the drama surrounding Mr. Hurd's departure from H-P. Mr. Hurd abruptly left the Palo Alto, Calif., tech company in August following Ms. Fisher's allegations.

In addition to the harassment claims, people who have seen Ms. Fisher's letter said it alleged the former CEO told her in March 2008 about H-P's still secret plan to acquire computer-services company Electronic Data Systems Corp. H-P announced the $13.9 billion deal two months later.
  • Another Reason It Matters  The letter ultimately led to Hurd's departure, which in turn caused a gigantic plunge in HP's stock, notes Shira Ovida at The Wall Street Journal: "H-P has seen $9.5 billion of its market value evaporate since Hurd's departure." Additionally, she compares H-P's stock to the DJIA, the Nasdaq and the S&P500. In each case, the indexes rose while HP plummeted.
  • But We Already Know What There Is to Know  "[The] story has been covered in-depth for some time I’ll just net it out here," writes Rob Tenderloin at IT Business Edge:
Mark Hurd hired an attractive woman named Jodie Fisher to help him host executive events. She performed the role of hostess--a role that was typical of CEO wives back in the day--to keep the conversations flowing and the executives from feeling ignored. By all reports she did more than an adequate job and apparently she and Mark Hurd became close until he fired her. She alleged that she was fired because he wanted to take the wife metaphor to a more intimate conclusion. She refused to hire a very high-profile attorney to argue her case.

Her goal was to get a large settlement and part of what she alleged was that Hurd shared intimate details about corporate acquisitions that were privileged. Mark Hurd was subsequently fired from HP not because of the alleged almost-affair but because his handpicked board didn’t believe his stories about what happened and were scared to death of an SEC investigation that could cost each of them their careers if discovered.
  • That Doesn't Matter: This Letter Needs to Be Made Public, writes Henry Blodget at Business Insider:

Shareholders have every right to know the details about why their star CEO was tossed out of the company.  And this letter is one of those details. HP's market cap plummeted when Hurd left, costing shareholders billions. HP also paid Hurd a huge severance to go away quietly, while also alleging that he had lied in his expense reports (inconsistent). HP shareholders deserve to know exactly what HP's board knew and when it knew it, and the letter is an important part of that.

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