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Jury Deliberates on Former NAACP Leader’s Settlement of Harassment Case

June 5, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Benjamin Chavis’ attorney asserted Wednesday that the civil rights leader had the right to settle a sexual harassment case against the NAACP and accused the group of using the matter to get rid of him.

But the lawyer for the NAACP countered that the organization is an ``innocent victim caught in the cross fire″ between Chavis, its former executive director, and Mary Stansel, and shouldn’t be liable for any part of the agreement because it violated organization policy.

``The wisdom of the decision is not the issue,″ Chavis’ attorney, Abbey G. Hairston, told the nine-member Superior Court jury at the close of Chavis’ trial. ``The issue is: Did he have the authority to do what he did?″

Jurors began deliberating the case Wednesday afternoon and will decide whether the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People must honor the November 1993 agreement with Stansel and pay up too.

Judge Henry Kennedy Jr. already has ruled that Chavis is personally responsible for paying Stansel the $245,200 she is owed. The NAACP has already paid her $87,200, but is trying to get it back.

Stansel argues that the NAACP must pay.

But the NAACP says it shouldn’t have to because Chavis, its executive director from April 1993 until his dismissal in August 1994, acted independently and secretly to protect himself from Stansel’s charges.

``They didn’t bother to tell that to anyone,″ said 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 his client had every reason to believe Chavis was acting within his authority as executive director when he settled the matter.

Stansel, who has acknowledged a prior sexual relationship with Chavis, was his interim executive assistant for six weeks until he fired her in May 1993.

``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 reaching a settlement with Stansel, and that the group’s attorney also should have been told.

Greenwald said Chavis failed to satisfy either requirement.

Chavis has testified that he approved the settlement to protect the NAACP’s image. He also said he 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, including sexual harassment and sexual and employment discrimination, 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 that the organization was now 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, was personally motivated.

``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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