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Jul 11, 2022, 7:40:03 AMJul 11
Black Leader Used N.A.A.C.P. Money To Settle a Sex Harassment Case
WASHINGTON, July 28— Without the knowledge of his board of
directors, the executive director of the National Association for
the Advancement of Colored People committed the financially troubled
organization last year to payment of as much as $332,400 to a former
employee who had threatened to sue him for sexual harassment,
according to court records and N.A.A.C.P. officials.
In an out-of-court settlement between the executive director, the
Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., and Mary E. Stansel, who was a deputy
of his for a month last year, he agreed that she would be paid two
lump sums totaling $50,000 and then six monthly installments of
$5,400 each. Court records show that she has actually received at
least $77,000 of that money.
But under another provision of the agreement, Mr. Chavis was to
arrange for Ms. Stansel to find a job outside the N.A.A.C.P. that
would pay her at least $80,000 a year. In the absence of any such
job offer to Ms. Stansel within six months of the agreement, which
was negotiated last November, the civil rights organization was to
pay her an additional $250,000.
Ms. Stansel now contends that Mr. Chavis reneged on the promise of a
job and is suing him and the N.A.A.C.P. in District of Columbia
Superior Court for that $250,000.
Neither the court papers filed in the lawsuit nor the out-of-court
settlement gives any details of the sexual harassment that the 49-
year-old Ms. Stansel alleges, and she declined to discuss the
Lawyers for Mr. Chavis, 46, denied Ms. Stansel's claim of harassment
and said she had obtained the out-of-court agreement by threatening
his reputation with a fraudulent accusation. One lawyer said that
Mr. Chavis had tried to find employment for Ms. Stansel but that his
efforts had been thwarted because she had overstated her
The legal battle with Ms. Stansel comes at a time when Mr. Chavis is
already fighting off critics within the N.A.A.C.P. and among its
supporters, who have been angered by his financial management and
his overtures toward Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of
Islam, among other matters.
Several of the organization's 64 board members said today that they
had been unaware not only that Mr. Chavis had entered into the
settlement but also that he had even been accused of sex harassment.
A number of them reacted with shock and outrage when told of the
"I don't know a thing about it -- not a word," said Marc Stepp of
Detroit, chairman of a special board committee that is trying to
raise money to reduce the N.A.A.C.P.'s estimated debt of $3 million.
"This is a moral fraud. I did not know. I had not been advised as a
board member that this case had occurred and the settlement was
Joe Madison, a board member who has had frequent run-ins with Mr.
Chavis and who had learned of the case by the time a reporter called
him today, said, "I think I'm on safe ground in saying that no
agreement of this magnitude can be entered into without a review by
the general counsel and a review and a vote of the national board of
No Mention at Meeting
Several board members said that at a meeting of the full board
during the recently concluded N.A.A.C.P. convention in Chicago, Mr.
Chavis and William Gibson, the chairman, were asked whether there
were any suits pending against the organization. Both men replied
that they were unaware of any, these officials said.
In fact, though, the N.A.A.C.P. had been served with papers on June
30 -- 10 days before the start of the convention -- informing Mr.
Chavis and the organization that they were being sued on the ground
of breaching the out-of-court settlement.
Mr. Chavis could not be reached for comment on the settlement or the
lawsuit. But in court papers, his lawyers deny the accusation of
sexual harassment. And in an interview, one of Mr. Chavis's lawyers
said the executive director had entered into the settlement under
duress, to avoid unfair and nasty publicity.
"She threatened him with litigation, reminding him that a lawsuit
would put him in position where his credibility would be
questioned," said this lawyer, Abbey G. Hairston.
Ms. Hairston said Mr. Chavis had been "placed under a great deal of
duress because of these threats."
She also said he had made a good-faith attempt to obtain employment
for Ms. Stansel but had been hindered by her refusal to update her
resume and by her lack of qualifications for the annual salary of at
least $80,000 that she was demanding.
"There was one interview set up," Ms. Hairston said. "She didn't
show up," and Mr. Chavis had to call the prospective employer, a
Federal agency that Ms. Hairston declined to identify, and say that
Ms. Stansel had a family emergency.
Ms. Hairston said that after a rescheduled interview, Mr. Chavis
received word "that they were not impressed, that she did not have
the skills and would not get the position." Ms. Hairston also said,
contrary to the account of some board members, that the settlement
had been negotiated with the knowledge of the N.A.A.C.P.'s in-house
counsel, Dennis Hayes. Mr. Hayes's office referred all questions to
the organization's communications office, where spokesmen could not
be reached for comment today.
Statement by Chairman
Ms. Stansel, a former legislative assistant to Senator Howell
Heflin, Democrat of Alabama, was among those who helped lobby the
N.A.A.C.P. board to select Mr. Chavis as executive director in April
1993. Mr. Chavis brought her into the organization that month as an
administrative assistant, but she was let go after a few weeks.
In a statement issued late this afternoon, Mr. Gibson, the chairman,
said that Ms. Stansel had been hired only as an "interim assistant"
and that "it was later determined that her services would not be
Mr. Gibson's statement, issued several hours after he had declined
to be interviewed about the matter by a reporter who had called his
office in Columbia, S.C., did not address other board members'
complaint that they had known nothing of the settlement. Nor did it
say whether Mr. Gibson was aware of the new lawsuit when he and Mr.
Chavis were asked at the convention whether any legal battles were
Ms. Stansel and Mr. Chavis reached their out-of-court agreement on
Nov. 12, 1993. It was "entered into in lieu of" a civil action
against Mr. Chavis and the N.A.A.C.P. for job discrimination, sexual
harassment and wrongful discharge, court papers filed last month by
Ms. Stansel say.
In the settlement, Mr. Chavis formally agreed, on behalf of himself
and the N.A.A.C.P., to give Ms. Stansel $80,000, in lump-sum
payments of $35,000 immediately and $15,000 15 days later and in six
monthly payments of $5,400.
According to Ms. Stansel's court papers, she received the lump sums
and five monthly installments, meaning she has actually been paid at
The agreement also committed Mr. Chavis to obtaining interviews for
a job that would pay Ms. Stansel an annual salary of at least
$80,000. If the position paid less than that amount, the N.A.A.C.P.
was committed for two years to making up the difference between
$80,000 and the position's actual salary.