NAACP director sued by former employee

July 29, 1994|By James Bock | James Bock,Sun Staff Writer

NAACP Director Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. is being sued for allegedly reneging on a deal he made to pay a fired employee up to $330,000 to settle an employment discrimination claim -- a deal that NAACP board members say they were never told about.

Mary E. Stansel, a Washington resident who managed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's executive office briefly after Dr. Chavis became executive director in April 1993, claims that she was a victim of gender discrimination and sexual harassment who was wrongfully fired.

Ms. Stansel, a lawyer representing herself, filed suit June 30 in District of Columbia Superior Court. The NAACP and Dr. Chavis filed a counterclaim July 20.

She charges that the NAACP paid her nearly $75,000 in compliance with a November 1993 settlement of her claim, but then froze payments and tried to renegotiate terms. The agreement called for the civil rights group to give her more than $250,000 over the next 12 months unless Dr. Chavis helped find her an $80,000-a-year job.

The NAACP said in a statement yesterday that Ms. Stansel was fired because of "continual clashes with other support staff" and because she made "astronomical salary demands." The civil rights group contends that she had not made a good-faith effort to find another job.

The allegation of sexual harassment is "just hype for Mary, and it's very offensive, I might add," said Abbey G. Hairston, a lawyer representing the NAACP and Dr. Chavis.

Ms. Hairston said Dr. Chavis agreed to settle in 1993 to avoid disrupting his new job at the NAACP.

"He was literally scared to death," she said. "He was new, and she was threatening him."

Neither Ms. Stansel nor Dr. Chavis, who was in Jamaica, could be reached for comment.

The controversy comes on the heels of news that the NAACP had a deficit of nearly $3 million at midyear, and it spurred new questions about Dr. Chavis' leadership among the NAACP's 64-member board.

"I'm very upset," said Leroy W. Warren Jr., a Silver Spring board member. "Somebody should have known about this agreement."

Mr. Warren said he specifically asked at a July 14 board meeting whether there were any outstanding claims against the NAACP. He said the board chairman, Dr. William F. Gibson, said there were none. He said the board was told nothing about the November agreement.

"This is absolutely unbelievable," said Mr. Warren, who has criticized Dr. Chavis' handling of NAACP finances. "All I know is he's become a burden. He's just totally spinning out of control."

The NAACP board is not scheduled to meet until October, and it was unclear whether the board would meet before then to discuss the Stansel settlement and lawsuit.

Ms. Hairston said the NAACP legal department did not handle the Stansel case because staff members might be potential witnesses. But other board sources, who asked not to be named, said NAACP lawyers didn't seem to know about the November deal.

According to the NAACP constitution, employees of the civil rights group are indemnified for judgments against them in the course of their duties, but only if the NAACP general counsel or a designee is notified "in time for a meaningful defense to be made."

Anthony Fugett, a Baltimore businessman and Chavis ally on the NAACP board, said Ms. Stansel was a volunteer on the "campaign to make Ben the next executive director."

He said he believed that Ms. Stansel, who had worked for U.S. Sen. Howell Heflin, D-Ala., was fired because "the right position didn't exist for her" at the NAACP.

The suit, which asks that the NAACP pay Ms. Stansel $255,400 plus court costs and legal fees, alleges that Dr. Chavis only arranged one job interview for her. The NAACP counterclaim contends that Ms. Stansel misrepresented herself as qualified for a high-level government job.

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