Last updated: August 19, 2010 12:16 am

HP made decision on Hurd ‘before settlement’

Hewlett-Packard’s board had already decided that chief executive Mark Hurd should leave the computer maker before his controversial settlement with a company contractor who alleged he sexually harassed her, several people involved in his ousting said on Wednesday.

Media reports this week said the August 4 settlement – which included an agreement that barred events co-ordinator Jodie Fisher from speaking publicly on the matter – had frustrated board members.

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The directors were said to have felt the deal blocked their investigation of Ms Fisher’s claim, which was that she was denied continued work because she would not have sex with Mr Hurd, and helped ensure his resignation two days later.

But Mr Hurd’s allies have claimed that those accounts were misleading and escalated a war of words that broke out after Mr Hurd’s departure.

In interviews, people on both sides of the fight confirmed a timeline of events suggesting the settlement with Ms Fisher came after work on Mr Hurd’s exit was already under way.

People on both sides said the key decisions occurred around the end of July, a month after an eight-page letter to Mr Hurd outlined the allegations from Ms Fisher.

The board ordered an investigation by outside lawyers, who gave their “initial finding” to the group on July 28, according to notes taken by people directly involved.

The board concluded that while Mr Hurd had not harassed Ms Fisher, he had violated the company’s code of conduct. Improper expense reporting by Mr Hurd or his staff meant her name was omitted from some filings, which had the effect of concealing what the inquiry determined was a close relationship, the company said. Mr Hurd has said he was not involved in the preparation of those reports and that there was no intent to conceal anything.

At a meeting that weekend, the board decided to follow the recommendation of its lawyers and a public relations firm and disclose that the harassment claim had been lodged. Mr Hurd argued that the matter should be kept quiet, adding to the board’s determination that he should leave.

By the following Tuesday, the two sides were deep into a discussion of what would become a generous severance package, because Mr Hurd was not being fired for cause.

The next day, Mr Hurd settled with Ms Fisher, and his team received a congratulatory note from an HP lawyer, one of his allies said.

But HP had no need to question her, Mr Hurd’s allies said, because the probe was done and Mr Hurd was leaving.

HP and Mr Hurd declined to comment.

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