Former HP chief loses appeal over letter

Mark Hurd, former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard and now president of Oracle, was forced to disclose a letter detailing allegations of sexual harassment made against him while in charge at HP, after a Delaware court denied his request to keep it sealed from public view.

Mr Hurd had appealed to keep the letter confidential, saying that revealing the information it contained about his relationship with Jodie Fisher, an HP marketing consultant who accused him of inappropriate behaviour, would violate a California privacy law.

The Delaware court disagreed in a ruling issued Thursday, instead siding with an HP shareholder who demanded the letter be made public in support of his investigation into corporate wrongdoing.

“[Al]though the letter goes into embarrassing detail about Hurd’s behaviour, it does not describe any intimate conversations or conduct,” the court said. The letter “does not contain any nonpublic financial information, trade secrets, or other proprietary information”.

The eight-page letter was written by Gloria Allred, an attorney for Ms Fisher, and sent to Mr Hurd in June 2010. A copy of the letter, obtained by the Financial Times on Thursday, claimed that Mr Hurd repeatedly attempted to engage Ms Fisher in romantic exchanges over the two years that she did contract work for HP. At events from Los Angeles to Madrid between 2007 and 2009, Mr Hurd invited Ms Fisher to dinner or stopped by her hotel room, according to the letter.

Ms Allred also wrote in the letter to Mr Hurd: “It is appalling that you would use HP revenues for the purpose of procuring female companionship and romance under the guise of HP business.”

HP’s board investigated the matter and found no substance in the sexual harassment claims, but did determine that Mr Hurd mishandled expense reports in violation of the company’s code of conduct. That investigation report remains sealed.

Mr Hurd resigned from HP in August 2010, but left with a severance package worth up to $40m. He and Ms Fisher resolved the sexual harassment dispute privately around the same time. Ms Fisher has since said that the letter contained “many inaccuracies”, a point reiterated by representatives of Mr Hurd and Oracle on Thursday.

Amy Wintersheimer, employment attorney for Mr Hurd, said in a statement: “The truth is, there never was any sexual harassment, which HP’s investigation confirmed, and there never was any sexual relationship, which Ms Fisher has confirmed.”

Ernesto Espinoza, an HP stockholder, asked to see company records and documents, including the letter, as part of a shareholder investigation into whether Mr Hurd’s actions, and the HP board’s response to them, amounted to corporate wrongdoing, mismanagement or waste.

Though Mr Espinoza has seen the letter and admitted in court documents that his investigation is “neither furthered nor undermined by the publication” of it, he argued in support of releasing it to the public because its contents demonstrate it was “a business communication concerning how and why Hurd allegedly breached his fiduciary duties to HP stockholders”.

HP declined to comment.

Additional reporting by Richard Waters in San Francisco.

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