Chavis denies adultery alleged by columnist

August 09, 1994|By James Bock and Michael A. Fletcher | James Bock and Michael A. Fletcher,Sun Staff Writers

A spokeswoman for NAACP Executive Director Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. denied yesterday a report that he agreed to pay a fired aide up to $332,400 after she threatened to charge him with sexually harassing her while they had an "adulterous relationship."

"Dr. Chavis is on record as saying he did not sexually harass Mary Stansel," said Terhea A. Washington, the spokeswoman, referring to the fired employee.

"He's also denying such a relationship. The relationship he has had with Mary Stansel has been a professional relationship," she said.

Ms. Washington was responding to allegations in a syndicated column by Carl Rowan that appears in The Sun today. Ms. Stansel, a volunteer in the campaign to make Dr. Chavis NAACP executive director, was employed for six weeks at the NAACP in the spring of 1993 before she was fired.

Mr. Rowan wrote that Dr. Chavis lied at a Washington news conference Thursday when he said sexual harassment was never an issue in the Stansel case.

The columnist said that in an Oct. 25, 1993, fax from Rose M. Sanders, an Alabama lawyer who represented Ms. Stansel, to her client, the lawyer included "sexual harassment" in the suggested language for Ms. Stansel's threatened claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

He said Ms. Sanders' fax also suggests that Ms. Stansel say in the claim: "Dr. Chavis intentionally wooed and pursued me to achieve my consent and involvement in his campaign, and my termination came only after the adulterous relationship ended."

At last week's news conference, Dr. Chavis presented a July 7 letter from Ms. Sanders saying that sexual harassment was not an issue in the case. Ms. Sanders has been unavailable for comment.

Ms. Washington said the NAACP stood by Ms. Sanders' July 7 letter. She said the NAACP had not seen the documents referred to in the Rowan column.

"Dr. Chavis did not lie when he said sexual harassment was not an issue," Ms. Washington said yesterday evening. "It was not an issue, and it is not an issue now."

Mr. Rowan also wrote that the NAACP told the U.S. Department of Labor last fall that Ms. Stansel had not been an employee of the Baltimore-based civil rights group.

Ms. Washington said she had not seen such a document, but that Ms. Stansel, a 49-year-old Washington lawyer and former U.S. Senate aide, was an "interim assistant to Dr. Chavis" and not a permanent employee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

"Did we cut her a check from the NAACP? Yes. Did that mean she was a permanent employee? No. She was paid for services rendered," Ms. Washington said.

Dr. Chavis, 46, NAACP executive director since April 1993, agreed in November 1993 that the NAACP would pay Ms. Stansel up to $82,400 while he helped find her an $80,000-a-year job elsewhere. The settlement provided that if she received no job offer, the NAACP would pay her an additional $250,000.

Ms. Stansel, alleging that Dr. Chavis and the NAACP had reneged on the deal, sued them June 30 in District of Columbia Superior Court. The NAACP has countersued, saying that she overstated her qualifications and didn't make a good-faith effort to find a job.

Dr. Chavis has been under fire for agreeing to such a potentially large settlement without consulting his board of directors or the NAACP general counsel -- all at a time when the organization is facing a nearly $3 million budget deficit.

Kelly M. Alexander Jr., an NAACP board member and Chavis supporter, said yesterday that Mr. Rowan's "allegation, if it can be substantiated, will be very detrimental."

"That's heavy, man," he said. "I don't want to come to a conclusion until an appropriate forum is convened. I want to hear not just what someone is alleging, but what Dr. Chavis has to say about it. You have to maintain fairness in the process."

The NAACP has scheduled an emergency board meeting Aug. 20 in Baltimore to discuss the Stansel case.

Meanwhile, members of the Washington-Oregon NAACP said yesterday that their president, Greg Evans, exceeded his authority last week when he called on Dr. Chavis and Dr. Gibson to resign. Mr. Evans urged NAACP branches in his area to withhold dues from the national office.

ShaRee Rhone, president of the Portland, Ore., branch, said she trusted the NAACP's national leaders. She said Dr. Chavis' settlement with Ms. Stansel was in the organization's best interests, given the high cost of fighting such charges in court. "I don't think I would have done it much differently," she said.

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