The HP boss and the actress: Court says public can see 'embarrassing' letter

For a challenging moment in crisis management , have a look at how Hewlett Packard, the world's biggest PC maker, reacted when the lawyer's letter below landed in its in-tray.

Mark Hurd and Jodie Fisher

The man named in it , CEO Mark Hurd , accused of sexual harassment, was then in the middle of successfully turning the company round.

The woman making the complaint was actress Jodie Fisher, hired by HP to star in company commercials and attend events. The letter alleges that when he hired her , "he had designs on making her his mistress."

HP's investigation was to fault Hurd for "poor judgment" and for expense account inaccuracies involving dinners with Fisher. He

did not violate the company's sexual harassment policies in his relationship with her, they decided - but he did violate the company's standards of business conduct.

Hurd, resigned in August 2010, walking away with tens of millions, to become boss of Oracle. Jodie Fisher got an undisclosed cash settlement from Hurd. She later said she and he never had sexual relations. They both wanted the letter kept secret. And it was - until today.

After a Delaware court ruled this week that it could be made public , the San Jose Mercury News - hometown paper of HP - published it on its website, describing it as "embarrassing." The New York Times also published the letter. (see the PDF below)

.

Running to eight pages, the letter from lawyer Gloria Allred accuses Hurd of sexual harassment, saying he repeatedly pressed 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. At one point it is alleged he took her to an ATM machine to show he had a million in his bank account.

Mr. Hurd said the letter should be kept 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, Hurd met 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, Hurd invited Fisher to his room at the Ritz-Carlton, where he 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.

However an e-mail sent by Fisher soon after the Atlanta event had the subject line “great to see you” and talked about how she was looking forward to seeing Hurd again.

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.

In an e-mail to employees after Hurd resigned, the company’s interim chief, Cathie Lesjak, said he 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.”

HP appointed as chief Léo Apotheker, who himself was ousted on Sept. 22. Meg Whitman, former boss of eBay, is now H.P.’s chief.

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