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Whitman dismisses uproar about alleged shoving incident with EBay employee

In a radio interview, the Republican said the altercation was a verbal dispute and characterizes the media interest in the story as the 'fascination of the chattering class.'

June 23, 2010|By Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times

After a week of silence, Meg Whitman has spoken out about a report that she shoved a subordinate when she was chief executive of EBay, characterizing the altercation as a verbal dispute and dismissing the uproar about it as "a fascination of the chattering class."

Whitman has held no public events since the New York Times reported on June 14 that a six-figure settlement had been paid to the EBay employee after the 2007 incident. The Republican gubernatorial nominee made her first public comments Monday, speaking with three conservative radio hosts about issues such as her union opponents, the economy, immigration and her appeals to Latino voters. Only one, Sacramento radio personality Eric Hogue, asked her about the incident.

"We had a misunderstanding," Whitman said on KTKZ-AM (1380). "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."

Neither Whitman nor her campaign has explicitly denied that a physical confrontation took place. Each previously released a clipped statement similar to Whitman's radio remarks that sought to paint the dispute as par for the course in the intense world of business. Whitman's remarks Monday shed no new light on the details.

Whitman also spoke out for the first time about controversial comments from rival Jerry Brown. The Democratic nominee compared Whitman's saturation campaign to that of a Nazi propaganda minister.

Whitman described his statements as "bizarre" and "disturbing," and said Brown's campaign has not apologized. She expressed disbelief over Brown's claim that he thought the post-jogging conversation with a radio reporter in the Oakland Hills was off-the-record.

"Jerry Brown has been in politics for 40 years," Whitman said, chuckling. "Jerry Brown knows exactly how this game works."

According to the New York Times account, Whitman's incident occurred in June 2007 at the company's San Jose headquarters, as EBay communications employee Young Mi Kim was helping Whitman prepare for an interview with Reuters.

Citing sources who refused to be named, the newspaper said Whitman got angry, uttered an expletive and pushed Kim out of the conference room. A source who the paper said was knowledgeable about Whitman's version of events said she "physically guided" the underling out. Kim left the company for a short time after the incident, but returned and is now a senior manager for corporate communications. According to the report, Kim threatened legal action and later received a confidential settlement said to be "around $200,000," the paper was told.

The settlement occurred at a time when Whitman's desire to run for public office was well-known at the online-auction powerhouse, according to a former high-ranking individual at the company. Two other former EBay employees told the Los Angeles Times that Whitman's temper was also well-known. None would speak critically of Whitman on the record.

Speaking with Hogue, Whitman lavished praise on Kim, describing her as "a terrific individual," "a respected colleague" and "an incredibly valued asset to the company."

Whitman told Hogue that voters have more pressing concerns than the incident.

"We shouldn't get sidetracked by a fascination of the chattering class on things like this," she said."Californians want to talk about jobs and the economy and fixing our public school system."

seema.mehta@latimes.com

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