Chavis' attempt to clarify only raises more questions

August 05, 1994|By ROGER SIMON

WAHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- Not content with the frying pan, Ben Chavis opted for the fire yesterday.

The executive director of the NAACP is accused of sexual harassment and sexual discrimination in a lawsuit by former employee Mary Stansel.

Last November, Chavis agreed to pay her more than $300,000 out of the NAACP's treasury on the sexual discrimination charge.

And last week, Chavis released a 4 1/2 page statement about the matter in which he mentioned "sexual harassment" three times.

But yesterday, Chavis felt the need to call a press conference to firmly state that sexual harassment had never been an issue. Just sexual discrimination.

Which means what? That sexual harassment is really embarrassing, but sexual discrimination is not?

Chavis also released a letter to prove his claim. Except that the letter, written from Stansel's attorney to Stansel a few weeks ago, implies that Stansel may have wanted to raise sexual harassment last November, but was talked out of it.

And considering Stansel was getting nearly a third of a million dollars from Chavis, what did she care what Chavis was accused of?

If Chavis was going to pay me that kind of dough, I wouldn't care if he claimed that all he had ever done wrong was cross against the light.

At yesterday's press conference, Chavis' attorney, Abbey G. Hairston, continued in her attempt to dirty up Stansel.

Hairston once again pointed out that Stansel, an attorney, has filed several lawsuits over the years trying to enrich herself. (Though accusing an attorney of bringing lawsuits is a little like accusing a ballerina of dancing on her toes.)

But for the sake of argument, assume that everything Chavis and Hairston imply is true: Stansel is a twisted, greedy liar with a habit of bringing false suits. So why did they agree to pay her off?

Which is exactly what I asked Hairston at the press conference.

To which she replied that she had not done a complete background check on Stansel before agreeing to the settlement.

"But how could you agree to a settlement of this magnitude without checking on the background of the complainant?" I asked.

"It was not necessary," Hairston replied.

"She's a pathological liar," I said sarcastically, "but it wasn't necessary to determine that before paying her?"

Hairston chose not to reply.

And take a look at the amount of hush money that Chavis agreed to pay Stansel. It is staggering.

This is not some $5,000 or even $10,000 "nuisance" settlement that you pay a person because the cost of litigation would be greater than the cost of settlement.

Chavis agreed to pay this woman $332,400, which she figured would be about four years' salary.

That's the kind of settlement you give a person if you run over them with your truck, not if you sexually discriminate against them.

Chavis was hustled out of the press conference when the questions started getting sticky, but I wish he had stayed.

I would have liked to ask him, for instance, what federal agency he called to get Stansel a job.

Chavis talks a lot about helping the African-American community. And I'll bet there are a whole lot of superbly qualified African-Americans out there who would love to have Ben Chavis get them a federal job interview.

But who gets the interview?

L Mary Stansel. A woman Chavis now says is a liar and a creep.

And just what was the exact nature of the relationship between Stansel and Chavis? I had heard a rumor that Chavis has known Stansel for a long time, long before he gave her a job last year.

There is nothing wrong with that, but his relationship with Stansel is at the heart of this current controversy.

So I asked Chavis the very first question of the news conference: "Just how long have you known Mary Stansel and what was the nature of your relationship with her?"

And Chavis' lawyer leaned over to him right in front of God and the TV cameras and everybody and whispered in his ear.

And Chavis replied: "On the advice of counsel, I am not answering those questions."

OK. Fine.

But I have a feeling that before this whole mess is over, we are going to find out the answer to both.

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