Letter That Led to Downfall of Hewlett Chief Surfaces

Quentin Hardy |The New York Times

The June 2010 letter that led to Mark V. Hurd’s downfall as the head of Hewlett-Packard paints a portrait of an executive who pressed a contract employee for sex, touched her inappropriately and asked her to spend the night with him.

Mark Hurd
Source: HP

A Delaware court ruled Wednesday that the letter, from the lawyer Gloria Allred to Mr. Hurd, who at the time was chief executive of H.P. , may be made public. The letter set in motion internal investigations at the company that led to Mr. Hurd’s resignation on Aug. 6, 2010.

Running eight pages, the letteraccuses Mr. Hurd of sexual harassment, saying he repeatedly pressed Ms. Allred’s client, Jodie Fisher, a former actress in pornographic movies and reality show contestant, for sex. It also claims that he boasted about his wealth and knowledge of business deals.

Mr. Hurd, now a president of the Oracle Corporation , had fought to keep the letter private, asserting California’s privacy laws. But the court found that the letter, while “mildly embarrassing,” was not protected in the same way as trade secrets and certain financial information.

In Oct. 2007, the letter says, Mr. Hurd met Ms. Fisher, who was working as a contract employee for H.P., in Atlanta. On the pretext of showing her some documents for China’s vice premier, the letter says, Mr. Hurd invited Ms. Fisher to his room at the Ritz-Carlton, where Mr. Hurd propositioned her.

“Ms. Fisher was horrified,” the letter says, and after an hour of refusals, she eventually left. “You told her that no one had ever rejected you before and were clearly miffed.”

After describing several such encounters in detail, the letter says that Ms. Fisher’s employment with H.P. ended.

A source briefed on the case, however, says that an outside counsel for H.P. prepared a timeline of e-mails that Ms. Fisher sent around the time of the events recorded in the letter. An e-mail sent soon after the Atlanta event had the subject line “great to see you” and talked about how she was looking forward to seeing Mr. Hurd again.

Ms. Fisher settled with Mr. Hurd two days before his resignation from H.P. In a letter following the settlement, she stated that the letter from Ms. Allred contained many inaccuracies.

“The letter was recanted by Ms. Fisher,” said Ken Glueck, a senior vice president at Oracle. “She admitted it was full of inaccuracies.” A spokeswoman for H.P. declined to comment.

An H.P shareholder, Ernesto Espinoza, had filed a lawsuit against H.P. and sought a copy of the letter in court to investigate corporate wrongdoing and waste associated with the relationship and Mr. Hurd’s resignation. The Delaware court did not release the letter on Thursday, but the documents were obtained by The New York Times from sources close to the case.

Soon after receiving the letter from Ms. Allred, Mr. Hurd turned it over to H.P.’s corporate counsel, Michael Holston. Mr. Holston, acting on behalf of the company, began an internal investigation of Mr. Hurd’s behavior.

While the letter from Ms. Allred was mostly a narrative of a powerful man’s pursuit of a woman for sex (after the settlement Ms. Fisher also stated that she and Mr. Hurd never had sexual relations), it also states that in March 2008, Mr. Hurd told Ms. Fisher that he was working on a deal to purchase Electronic Data Systems. H.P. announced in May 2008 that it would buy E.D.S. for $13.9 billion.

If these accusations are true, Mr. Hurd could be found guilty of leaking insider information. Sources close to the H.P. board, however, say that its internal investigation did not prove any such transgression. Tension emerged between Mr. Hurd and the board, they say, over his changing explanations about his relationship with Ms. Fisher and discrepancies in his expense reporting.

A spokeswoman for the Securities and Exchange Commission, citing commission policy, would not comment on whether the agency looked into the charge. Given the time that has elapsed since the letter was known to several corporate lawyers and the government, it seems unlikely that there was sufficient evidence for a case.

In an e-mail to employees a few days after Mr. Hurd resigned in 2010, the company’s interim chief, Cathie Lesjak, said Mr. Hurd resigned over “inappropriate behavior in which he engaged that violated H.P.’s standards of business conduct and undermined his ability to continue to lead the company.”

Since Mr. Hurd’s departure, Hewlett-Packard has struggled to regain its bearings. He was first replaced as chief by Léo Apotheker, who himself was ousted on Sept. 22. Meg Whitman, the former chief executive of eBay, is now H.P.’s chief.

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