The mother of a "distressed" baby said Monday she has forgiven AOL chief executive Tim Armstrong for referring to her child as the reason behind his decision to cut staff benefits.
Speaking to NBC's TODAY Show, Deanna Fei said Armstrong called her with a "heartfelt" apology, saying sorry for telling staff that costs associated with two employees' sick infants formed part of the reason for cutting their 401(k) benefits. One of the children to whom Armstrong was referring belonged to Fei and her husband, who works for the AOL-owned Huffington Post.
"I spoke to [Armstrong] last night," Fei told TODAY on Monday. "I don't want to get too much into the exact words that he used because I really feel like he spoke to me as a person to another person, and not in his public role as a CEO.
"He spoke to me in a heartfelt way as a father of three kids to a fellow parent. His apology was heartfelt and I appreciated it, and I do forgive him and I understand that we all sometimes say things that we wish we could take back."
Fei wrote a harrowing first-person article for the online magazine Slate about the painful premature birth of her daughter. In the article, which spread like wildfire across social media channels Sunday, she objected to "how [Armstrong] exposed the most searing experience of our lives … for no other purpose than an absurd justification for corporate cost-cutting."
Fei, who was told that her daughter had a one-in-three chance of dying before she would ever be able to bring her home, told NBC Nightly News on Sunday: "When I saw the headlines, it was sort of impossible to process he was talking about my daughter.
"It just seemed so completely dehumanizing. Also, a violation — for singling us out for using the health plan we paid for."
She also took issue with the “implication that somehow we were greedy consumers of health care benefits.”
Armstrong on Saturday scuttled a plan to delay company contributions to employee retirement accounts and said he was sorry, saying “I made a mistake and I apologize for my comments last week at the town hall when I mentioned specific healthcare examples in trying to explain our decision making process around our employee benefit programs.”
The cost-cutting move would have meant that employees receive matching 401(k) retirement contributions in one lump sum at the end of the year — instead of throughout the year. Workers who left the company before Dec. 31 would have received no contributions.
But following employee backlash and public outcry, Armstrong announced the media company would return to depositing matched contributions every pay period over the course of the year.
When contacted by NBC News, an AOL spokesperson said Armstrong has also reached out to the two families and apologized.
Francois G. Durand / Getty Images file
AOL CEO Tim Armstrong
First published February 9 2014, 3:23 PM