HP, ex-CEO Hurd win dismissal of lawsuit over harassment scandal

Mon Aug 12, 2013 2:11pm EDT
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By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) - Hewlett-Packard Co and its former chief executive, Mark Hurd, have won dismissal of a lawsuit that challenged the computer maker's public commitment to ethics at a time when Hurd was allegedly engaging in sexual harassment.

HP did not violate securities laws despite making statements such as a commitment to be "open, honest, and direct in all our dealings" because such statements were too vague and general, U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar in San Francisco wrote on Friday.

As a result, shareholders led by a New York City union pension fund cannot pursue fraud claims over Hurd's alleged violations of HP's standards of business conduct, the judge ruled.

"Adoption of the plaintiff's argument (would) render every code of ethics materially misleading whenever an executive commits an ethical violation following a scandal," Tigar wrote.

HP, which is based in Palo Alto, California, adopted new standards after a 2006 scandal over news leaks that had implicated several company executives and directors.

Hurd resigned from HP in August 2010 after allegations that he sexually harassed independent consultant Jodie Fisher.

An internal HP probe cleared Hurd of harassment but found that he filed inaccurate expense reports. Hurd, 56, is now president of Oracle Corp.

The departure of Hurd, who had been widely credited with improving HP's fortunes, led to a drop in the company's share price. HP's market value, which at the time topped $100 billion, has since fallen by roughly half, Reuters data show.   Continued...

Oracle co-president Mark Hurd speaks to the audience at Oracle Open World in San Francisco, California September 22, 2010. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith