By Susan Ferriss
sferriss@sacbee.com
Published: Thursday, Nov. 18, 2010 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

SAN JOSE – Defeated Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman agreed to pay her former undocumented maid $5,500 Wednesday to settle a dispute that erupted during the heat of the fall campaign.

Nicky Diaz Santillan and Gloria Allred, her famous Los Angeles attorney, said they were pleased with the agreement.

It includes a statement from Whitman that she does not feel she owed her maid any money, and it is less than the $8,000 to $10,000 in wages, mileage and penalties that Allred had pursued.

But Allred called the agreement a “victory” that “vindicates us” because the check that Diaz Santillan will get is close to the entire amount she had initially sought – about $6,000.

The closed-door conference “was a bit tense and dramatic and sometimes unpleasant,” Allred said. “Obviously, there are strong feelings on the other side. All we are focused on is the wages, and we resolved it.”

Whitman did not attend the conference with officials of the state Department of Industrial Relations, but an attorney and her husband, Griffith Harsh, did attend.

Whitman campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds said the meeting was “the last dying gasp of a political act that all Californians are better off with now that it’s dead and gone. … It’s important for people to understand that this was a political charade, and at the end of the day Meg Whitman and Dr. Harsh are just glad to move on and put this spectacle to rest.”

Dennis Brown, an attorney representing Whitman, said many of the maid’s claims could not be substantiated. No timecards were kept.

“Dr. Harsh was very concerned. He wanted to make sure that what Nicky Diaz was saying, she actually believed,” Brown added.

Harsh asked the former maid, Brown said, to “look him in the eye” and say she was really owed money. He said Diaz Santillan refused.

With Allred at her side, Diaz Santillan went public with the wage complaint in late September, just as the gubernatorial race between Whitman and Democrat Jerry Brown was heating up. The disclosure forced Whitman to answer allegations about the back wages and explain how she and Harsh came to hire – and nine years later fire – an undocumented worker.

Whitman and Harsh produced documents that Diaz Santillan had used to gain employment, and said they fired her years later as soon as they learned the papers were false and that she was in the country illegally.

Whitman also alleged that the disclosure was timed to disrupt her campaign, and accused Brown allies of being behind it. Brown denied having anything to do with the maid’s decision to come forward. Diaz Santillan has said that no one forced her to speak out, but she has declined to discuss how she met Allred.

Diaz Santillan said Whitman had clues years before the firing that she was undocumented. When Whitman refused to help her find an immigration attorney to help her attempt to get legal status, the maid said, she felt she had been tossed out like “garbage.”

Allred said the maid had done many duties beyond what she was paid to do in the Whitman home, including driving Whitman’s children around and using her own car.

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