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Jury Deliberates on NAACP Settlement of Harassment Case

June 6, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The NAACP says it’s an unwitting victim of a decision by former Executive Director Benjamin Chavis to promise $332,400 to a female employee to settle a sexual harassment case.

Attorneys for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People urged a Superior Court jury on Wednesday to decide that Chavis’ agreement with Mary Stansel, his former executive assistant, was not binding on the civil rights organization and it should not have to pay.

But in her own closing arguments, Chavis’ attorney argued that the organization should pay because Chavis was acting on its behalf.

``It’s the NAACP’s burden to show that Dr. Chavis did not have ... authority to enter this agreement,″ his attorney, Abbey Hairston, told the nine-member Superior Court jury at the close of the trial Wednesday.

Jurors were to resume deliberations today.

Stansel contends in her Superior Court lawsuit that the NAACP must pay.

Judge Henry Kennedy Jr. ruled last year that Chavis was personally responsible for signing the deal with Stansel, but that the jury must decide whether the NAACP must share liability for the November 1993 settlement and pay her too.

Kennedy ruled that Chavis is responsible for paying Stansel the $245,200 she is owed. She has been paid $87,200 by the NAACP, which is trying to eliminate its multimillion-dollar debt. But the organization also is trying to get its money back from Stansel.

Stansel says the NAACP must pay, but the NAACP says it shouldn’t have to because Chavis, its executive director from April 1993 until he was fired in August 1994 after the settlement was disclosed, acted independently and secretly to protect himself.

``They didn’t bother to tell that to anyone,″ said attorney Lawrence Greenwald, representing the NAACP. ``He obligated NAACP money so that he could get a release from the suit, and that is a conflict of interest.″

Richard Nettler, Stansel’s attorney, said she believed he was acting within his power as executive director when he settled the matter.

Stansel, who has acknowledged a prior sexual relationship with Chavis, was his executive assistant for six weeks until he fired her in May 1993. Chavis agreed to pay the money to keep her from suing the NAACP over allegations of sexual harassment and sexual and employment discrimination.

``This case is about a broken promise,″ Nettler said. ``Dr. Chavis had the authority to settle this matter.″

Greenwald said the NAACP constitution required Chavis to get advance written approval from the board of directors before settling with Stansel, and that the group’s attorney also should have been told. He said Chavis failed to satisfy either requirement.

Chavis has testified that he acted to protect the NAACP. He also said he had settled other matters without first getting the board’s approval.

Nettler and Hairston said the board knew what Chavis was doing about Stansel because her claims had been referred to Chavis by Dr. William Gibson, who was chairman of the board at the time.

Hairston also said the NAACP must be held responsible because the policy that Greenwald recited in court wasn’t always followed, and she accused the organization trying to hold Chavis to a higher standard.

She also said the NAACP’s claim against Chavis, a co-director of last fall’s ``Million Man March″ on Washington, amounted to a personal attack.

``It has nothing to do with Dr. Chavis violating any practice or policy,″ Hairston said. ``It was the NAACP’s way of getting rid of a person that they no longer wanted to serve as executive director, plain and simple.″

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