Democrats question temper of California governor candidate
June 15, 2010
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – California Democrats said Tuesday that a reported altercation three years ago between former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman and an employee raises questions about her temperament.
The New York Times, in a story based on anonymous sources who did not witness the altercation, reported that eBay and the Republican gubernatorial nominee reached a financial settlement with the employee. The newspaper said the settlement, which was confidential, was about $200,000.
The sources told the newspaper that Whitman shoved the employee and used an expletive, but Whitman’s campaign characterized the incident as a verbal dispute “in a high-pressure working environment.”
Shawnda Westly, executive director of the California Democratic Party, said Tuesday the incident shows Whitman has “an explosive temperament.”
“Being governor of California is a high-pressure proposition and it is beyond fair of us to ask: If this is how she handles an interview with the press, how is she going to react when she’s sitting in the governor’s office?” Westly said.
The party later Tuesday released an online video in which press reports about the incident are juxtaposed with Whitman’s comments in interviews about her leadership and management skills.
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The dispute reportedly arose as the employee, Young Mi Kim, was helping Whitman prepare for a media interview for which Whitman felt unprepared, according to the newspaper’s account. The two were in a conference room at eBay headquarters in Silicon Valley.
Whitman’s campaign chairman, former Gov. Pete Wilson, said he has seen the opposite from Whitman on the campaign trail. She has stayed calm under pressure despite a grueling campaign schedule that has included 500 appearances in just a few months, he said.
“I’ve also observed her with her campaign staff and she is, to the contrary, someone who maintains a pleasant disposition,” Wilson told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “I mean, I’m sure there are moments when something has gone wrong and she’s not been happy about it. But I haven’t heard much, if anything, about it.”
In an e-mailed statement to the Times, Kim said she and 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,” Kim told the newspaper. “And ultimately, I came back to the company, which is not something I had to do.”
Kim is now a senior manager for corporate and executive communications at the online auction site.
The Whitman campaign said it would have no comment beyond the statement it issued Tuesday. A spokesman for eBay, Bao-Viet Nguyen, declined further comment.
“Meg Whitman and Young Mi Kim have commented on the matter in response to questions from The New York Times. We have nothing to add,” he said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.
Brian Nagatani, a Santa Clara employment lawyer, said he was puzzled why eBay would pay a six-figure settlement, as reported by the newspaper, for an incident he described as minor.
He said such large payments are more common in cases in which the employee is likely to claim battery or emotional injury.
“Unless there was something more severe than is being disclosed or the employee suffered significant damage as a result, to pay the rumored $200,000 would be quite unusual in this scenario, as the facts were publicized,” said Nagatani, who advises corporate clients on handling workplace violence conflicts and other disagreements.
Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College in Southern California, said the altercation likely would not have led to such a rich settlement if it had involved someone else.
“But it probably was worth it for Meg Whitman,” he said. “She should be glad no one with a video camera was nearby when it happened.”
Associated Press Writer Don Thompson also contributed to this report.