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Whitman paid settlement to shoved employee

NYT: In June 2007, an eBay employee claimed that California GOP gubernatorial nominee Meg  Whitman became angry and forcefully pushed an employee in an executive conference room at eBay’s headquarters.
California Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman takes the stage during her primary election night party on June 8, 2010. ROBYN BECK / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: The New York Times

During her 10 years as chief executive of eBay, Meg Whitman, the Republican candidate for governor of California, was known as a demanding leader who did not hesitate to express displeasure with employees who failed to live up to her standards.

But on one occasion, she was accused of going too far — and paid for it.

In June 2007, an eBay employee claimed that Ms. Whitman became angry and forcefully pushed her in an executive conference room at eBay’s headquarters, according to multiple former eBay employees with knowledge of the incident. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because the matter was delicate and was deemed to be strictly confidential.

The employee, Young Mi Kim, was preparing Ms. Whitman for a news media interview that day. Ms. Kim, who was not injured in the incident, hired a lawyer and threatened a lawsuit, but the dispute was resolved under the supervision of a private mediator.

Two of the former employees said the company paid a six-figure financial settlement to Ms. Kim, which one of them characterized as “around $200,000.”

An agreement to keep the matter confidential was also part of the settlement, and the authorities were not involved.

Ms. Whitman was counseled in the matter, the former eBay employees said, by the company’s human resources lawyers and by Henry Gomez, then president of the Skype unit at eBay and now a senior adviser to Ms. Whitman’s campaign.

Ms. Kim still works at eBay and is now a senior manager for corporate and executive communications. At the time of the incident, she had recently joined eBay from the Gap. She left the company for about four months, returning to work in October 2007 after the matter was resolved.

When reached by telephone on Monday, Ms. Kim said the issue was a “private matter” and declined to comment. Later, in an e-mail message, Ms. Kim said she and Ms. Whitman had overcome their differences.

“Yes, we had an unfortunate incident, but we resolved it in a way that speaks well for her and for eBay,” Ms. Kim said. “And ultimately, I came back to the company, which is not something I had to do.”

The Whitman campaign issued a statement signed by Ms. Whitman that described Ms. Kim as a “respected colleague and valuable asset to the company.”

“In any high-pressure working environment, tensions can surface,” the statement said. “Young Mi and I had a professional disagreement, which we put behind us. She and I continued to work together at eBay, where I valued her skilled counsel and thorough professionalism.”

Ms. Whitman won the California Republican primary for governor last week by boasting of her management experience and an unwillingness to “let California fail.”

Central to her résumé, which does not include any political experience, is her tenure running eBay, during which she took a small auction site with 30 employees and expanded it into a Fortune 500 company with 15,500 employees.

Interviews with many former eBay executives who worked with Ms. Whitman suggest that the episode with Ms. Kim, and the behavior alleged, was an anomaly.

They say Ms. Whitman was demanding and would often express sharp bursts of anger toward employees whose work or preparation she found lacking. But they knew of no other similar accusations.

According to several current and former eBay employees, the incident with Ms. Kim took place on the morning of June 1, 2007, when Ms. Whitman was preparing for an interview with the news wire Reuters on an online virtual world called Second Life, where people appear as cartoonlike avatars.

Ms. Kim was briefing Ms. Whitman for the interview that morning by writing talking points on the whiteboard in Ms. Whitman’s personal conference room at eBay’s headquarters in San Jose, Calif.

Details of the dispute are somewhat vague, since no one else appears to have witnessed it. But according to employees familiar with the incident, Ms. Whitman became angry with Ms. Kim before the interview, partly because Ms. Whitman felt unprepared for the conversation with Reuters.

Ms. Kim later told at least one colleague that Ms. Whitman used an expletive and shoved her. According to one of the eBay employees knowledgeable about Ms. Whitman’s version of the incident, Ms. Whitman said that she had physically guided Ms. Kim out of the conference room.

Ms. Kim left eBay’s offices later that day, and in the ensuing weeks, Ms. Whitman tried to reach out to Ms. Kim several times to apologize, according to one former eBay employee close to Ms. Kim. Later, eBay suggested supervised mediation to resolve the matter, and Ms. Kim agreed.

The mediation took place in the San Francisco office of Jams, a private dispute resolution service that employs many former judges, the former employee said. Jams did not respond to requests for comment.

Ms. Whitman announced she was leaving eBay a few months after the mediation, in January 2008. She had said early in her time at eBay that she anticipated staying at the company for a decade. The company was under a variety of pressures at the time, as its stock sharply declined because of a stagnant auctions business and competitive advances from the likes of and Google.

On the campaign trail and in debates against her primary opponents, Ms. Whitman has been a steady presence, although she has been criticized as being awkward with the news media.

In March, she drew fire when she declined to take questions from assembled reporters at a campaign event in Oakland that the campaign had called an “open press stop."

The fact that she is held in high regard by some former colleagues has been a point of pride for the Whitman campaign. In the campaign’s second statewide television advertisement, four former eBay executives and one former eBay board member praised Ms. Whitman’s leadership style.

This story, "," first appeared in The New York Times.