Did GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman shove an employee when she was CEO of eBay -- resulting in a $200,000 settlement for the employee?
Well, she did tell the Los Angeles Times on Thursday that she "physically guided" eBay employee Young Mi Kim "out of the conference room into a hallway."
Shortly after Whitman won the GOP primary, The New York Times cited "multiple" unnamed sources to support a report that on June 1, 2007, Whitman and Kim had some sort of spat. According to the story, while there were no witnesses to the event, Kim told "at least one colleague" that Whitman "used an expletive and shoved her." Kim left eBay for four months, but returned after there was a settlement.
I've tried to get an explanation. Though given ample opportunity, Team Meg won't deny a physical element to the incident or do the other requisite things a campaign does to kill a bad story.
Last week, when KTKZ radio talk-show host Eric Hogue asked Whitman to clarify what happened, she said, "We had a misunderstanding. It was a verbal dispute and that kind of thing can happen in a high-pressure work environment, and we put it behind us a long time ago."
"I've heard a lot of expletives, and I haven't heard one yet that would warrant $200,000," quipped Sterling Clifford, spokesman for Attorney General Jerry Brown's Democratic gubernatorial campaign. Good point.
As a voter, I want to know if there is a pattern here.
Thursday, Whitman told the Associated Press that the altercation was an "anomaly" that taught her to be thoughtful about interactions with co-workers. Actually, The New York Times reported that eBay execs considered the episode an "anomaly," also. Kim told the paper, "We had an unfortunate incident, but we resolved it in a way that speaks well for her." So maybe it was a freak six-figure outburst that taught Whitman a lesson.
Would a wrong answer disqualify Whitman? Not necessarily.
And it's not as if she is tarnished, and all other California politicians have clean slates when it comes to treatment of staff.
As Oakland mayor, Brown made his long-time guru Jacques Barzaghi a senior adviser to the city in 1999. Brown demoted Barzaghi and cut his $118,000 pay after a 2001 sexual-harassment charge, but he kept his pal on the city payroll even after the city paid a $50,000 settlement. In a 2003 interview, Brown told the East Bay Express he didn't think complaints by other women about Barzaghi were true.
It wasn't until 2004, when police went to Barzaghi's home on a domestic disturbance call, that Barzaghi left Oakland's payroll.
After I mentioned Barzaghi, Clifford responded that Brown "eventually dismissed him." And: "This incident at eBay goes beyond an employee who had a problem"; it goes to "the temperament and behavior of a person who wants to be governor."
I asked if Brown's actions had resulted in any legal settlements. "There have been none," Clifford answered.
That said, it was choice to read California Democratic Party Executive Director Shawnda Westly faulting Whitman's "explosive temperament." After all, state party chairman John "F-Bomb" Burton was the target of a sexual harassment lawsuit when he was Senate president pro tem. That matter settled out of court, too.
As a Republican, I want to know why Whitman did not disclose this story during the primary.
Did she tell campaign staff? I can't get an on-the-record answer, although The New York Times reported that Whitman's senior campaign adviser and eBay alum Henry Gomez was in the loop.
Maybe, as a political neophyte, Whitman does not understand that the people who support her have a right to know if she recently agreed to a legal settlement that could hurt GOP chances in November. In any event, she left GOP primary voters out of the loop.
"We knew about it a long time ago," Clifford told me. "It's a well-known incident in the business community in Silicon Valley." (He also denied that the Brown campaign had anything to do with The New York Times story.)
Face it: This story was bound to get out.
And it did.