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Hewlett-Packard's Mark Hurd, Jodie Fisher and the Double Standard

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Dr. Wendy Walsh: I'll start with this disclosure: Jodie Fisher, the single mother whose sexual-harassment claim brought down the king of Hewlett-Packard, is a dear old friend. She and I met in a baby group twelve years ago, were champions of the breastfeeding brigade and bonded through the identity crisis that often accompanies new motherhood. We lost touch in recent years, as our work took us to different cities.

Jodie Fisher

So to wake up this morning and see her as the top hit on and the second New York Times link in my BlackBerry was surreal. Reading the nasty comments from trolls and bloggers sent a chill down my spine. Our culture sure loves to blame women when men screw up.

For those who need the backstory, Jodie was hired by Hewlett-Packard to do what she does best: be the social intelligence for world-weary CEO Mark Hurd. As a marketing specialist, Jodie acted as a hostess of sorts, introducing Mark at parties designed to woo high-level clients.

There could be no better match than Jodie and that gig. Her social skills are so obvious, I used her as an example of "welcoming energy" in my 2003 book, "The Girlfriend Test": "Jodie is a shining example of welcoming energy," I wrote. "I can't go anywhere with that girl without being crowded by men (and women, for that matter). In fact, she's such a reliable people-magnet that one year, I took her to my company Christmas party with 3,000 employees and their spouses, and met more people that evening than in the entire two years I had worked there -- because Jodie introduced me to them."

But it appears that HP's Mark Hurd wanted more than Jodie's smile. She eventually sued HP for sexual harassment. The company says they found no evidence of harassment, but Mark Hurd was later given the boot due to falsifying expense reports concerning his extracurricular time spent with Jodie. And before his exit, Mark gave Jodie what I hope was a big fat check. Men generally don't do that when they've done nothing wrong. Now the world is speculating about whether or not this married man had sex with this single woman, but the question is moot.

Sexual harassment laws are quite clear. There are two types of sexual harassment in the workplace:

1) "Quid Pro Quo" Harassment -- An employee is required to tolerate sexual advances in order to obtain or keep a job, job benefit, raise or promotion.

2) Hostile Work Environment Harassment -- Sexual advances at work unreasonably interfere with or alter the employee's work performance, or create a hostile, abusive or offensive work environment.

Both of those scenarios could have happened to Ms. Fisher. Apparently, the CEO liked to "wind down" by having a late-night dinner with his marketing consultant, and there may have been an implied or overt pressure for sex in exchange for future work. Or, he could have just been chasing her skirt at every event and thereby created a hostile environment. Whether or not she crumbled under the pressure has nothing to do with the law. I'll remind you: She is single. He is a married boss with power over her livelihood.

What irks me the most about this story is that Mark Hurd's past is not being examined by the media. I noticed that one former HP employee posted a comment online that his firing is long overdue, but mostly it's Jodie who's being called everything from a B-player actress to a reality-show star (both titles she wears with pride).

Single mothers are very creative when it comes to earning a living. Jodie got a few parts in fairly racy movies that aired on late-night HBO. Jodie explained that she was eight weeks pregnant when she got one of those films -- the gig that finally secured her Screen Actor's Guild health insurance. Yep: It paid for her pregnancy. And being a mother is Jodie's primary career, let me assure you. She nursed her son for 18 months, survived a dangerous miscarriage, went through a painful divorce and then picked herself up, dusted herself off and got a kickass job at Hewlett-Packard.

Is the double standard still really that entrenched that we slay the female victim because she is beautiful or because she is a performer? Why do we forgive the men who abuse their power?

I texted Jodie this morning, and we exchanged loving words for our kids. She and her 12-year-old are in hiding from the media storm. When is life going to cut a single mother a break?

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34 comments so far | Post a comment now
Carol August 14, 2010, 1:20 AM

Ms Fisher had no background in high tech. Or marketing. She was paid between $1,000 and $10,000 according to the newspapers for attending events and having dinner with Mr Hurd.
If you are going to note one employee whose opinion was that Mr Hurd was departure was long overdue, you ought to note that Oracle CEO Larry Ellsion and others in the business community praise Mr Hurd’s performance.

Paul August 18, 2010, 10:22 AM

Ms. Fisher’s contract with HP is terminated and she THEN files for sexual harassment? If harassment was going on why not report it prior to being terminated? Sexual harassment is an appalling but very serious matter. However, this charge sounds fishy.

Please get your facts straight. She was not an HP employee, but a contractor and capable of terminating her contract at any time if she felt any harassment. Also, why do you try to spin soft core porn as simply racy?

In any case, you are stating conjectures regarding what happened. I am surprised at this considering you appear to have a direct line to Ms. Fisher. Why not report fact? Did she tell you personally that she was harassed? Why was a settlement, in fact, reached? If she can’t speak about it due to the settlement restrictions then you are damning people without being privy to all the facts.

HP investigated and found no harassment occurred. I don’t think it would have been a perfunctory investigation either. If the charges were true it would seriously damage HP’s reputation. It has been reported by the AP that Mr. Hurd settled at the behest of his lawyers who told him it would be far less expensive than taking the case to trial.

With regards to an HP employee indicating Mr. Hurd should have been let go long ago, almost all rank and file employees felt that way because he was cutting salaries and slashing jobs left and right; and theirs could be next. In the past HP always placed the employee first before profit. I know. I’m an HP employee. No, not a contractor.

Anonymous August 26, 2010, 8:21 AM

I don’t want to duplicate the comments made here by Paul, with which I absolutely agree, but would like to add one other point. After Mark Hurd was ousted Jodie Fisher expressed that it was not her intention that Hurd lose his job. So this victim wants her victimizer to retain his position of power which he can use to harass someone else as long as he writes her a big check? Fisher sound fishy to me too.

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