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How a 'distressed baby' publicly shamed a tech CEO

Published February 10, 2014 2:52 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Tech executives from Silicon Valley have been opening their mouths and getting in a lot of trouble lately.

First there was AOL CEO Tim Armstrong who swiftly fired an employee in front of hundreds of people during a live conference call. Last December, AngelHack CEO Greg Gopman got on Facebook and complained about all of the homeless "degenerates" that were populating San Francisco. Then venture capitalist Tom Perkins wrote that the rich were being persecuted in this country like the Nazis persecuted the Jews in the 1930s.

Talk about swell guys.

Finally, as firing someone in front of hundreds wasn't enough, Armstrong last week made an even bigger blunder. During a town hall meeting with AOL employees, Armstrong announced he was scaling down their 401(k) plan despite having a profitable quarter. Then he explained WHY he was scaling the plan back:

"Two things that happened in 2012," Armstrong said. "We had two AOL-ers that had distressed babies that were born that we paid a million dollars each to make sure those babies were OK in general. And those are the things that add up into our benefits cost. So when we had the final decision about what benefits to cut because of the increased healthcare costs, we made the decision, and I made the decision, to basically change the 401(k) plan."

In other words, we had to cut back on your retirement plan and it was the fault of two families and their "distressed babies."

Well, that went over really well on the Internet.

Of course there was a lot of backlash on social media and elsewhere. But the real inhumanity of what he said comes across in what came out next: The mother of one of those "distressed babies" decided to speak out in a column she wrote for Slate.com.

In it, she talks about the heartache and pain that came with the medical complications of her delivery and subsequent care of her baby. It's a wonderful story and certainly brings home the heartlessness of what Armstrong said earlier.

To read the column, "My Baby and AOL's Bottom Line," go to Slate.com (hyperinking to the column does not work for some reason).

­— Vince Horiuchi

Twitter: @ohmytech