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US court says ex-HP CEO can't keep letter secret

Thu, 12/29/2011 - 12:05pm
BARBARA ORTUTAY - AP Technology Writer - Associated Press

Former Hewlett-Packard Co. CEO Mark Hurd will have to make public a letter detailing sexual-harassment allegations that led to his ouster.

The Delaware Supreme Court, the state's highest, ruled on Wednesday that Hurd's lawyers didn't show that disclosing the letter would invade California privacy rights. The ruling said information that is only "mildly embarrassing" is not protected from public disclosure. The letter, it added, does not contain trade secrets or non-public financial information that would qualify.

Although the letter goes into "embarrassing detail about Hurd's behavior, it does not describe any intimate conversation or conduct," the ruling said. Some sentences, concerning Hurd's family, were ordered redacted, but no one appealed that part of a lower court's decision, according to the ruling.

Celebrity attorney Gloria Allred sent the letter last year on behalf of Jodie Fisher, who was hired to help with HP networking events and later accused Hurd of sexual harassment. Although an investigation did not find any sexual harassment, it uncovered inaccurate expense reports that ultimately pressured Hurd to resign. Hurd now works as co-president at rival Oracle Corp.

HP shareholder Ernesto Espinoza had sued to have the letter unsealed. The ruling said that neither HP nor Espinoza argued that the letter is confidential and pointed out that it was sent to Hurd as CEO of HP, at HP's headquarters and alleged claims against both Hurd and HP.

Hurd's attorney, Amy Wintersheimer, said his lawyers had requested that the letter be kept confidential because "it is filled with inaccuracies."

"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," Wintersheimer said in a statement.

HP declined to comment. The court ruling did not say when the letter would be unsealed.

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