Senator denies giving special help in '91 to woman suing NAACP

August 19, 1994|By Nelson Schwartz | Nelson Schwartz,Contributing Writer

WASHINGTON -- A spokesman for Sen. Howell Heflin said yesterday that the senator made no special effort to help Mary E. Stansel win a favorable judgment in her worker's compensation claim before she left her job as an aide in his office in 1991.

Ms. Stansel applied for worker's compensation after suffering a knee injury on a 1983 Eastern Airlines flight. Just one day after she left her job in Mr. Heflin's office in 1991, Ms. Stansel's claim for compensation was approved by the Labor Department. Federal officials have declined to say what, if any, benefits she has collected.

Ms. Stansel gained public notice last month after she sued NAACP Executive Director Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. and the NAACP for allegedly breaking a secret agreement to settle her complaint that she was sexually harassed and wrongfully dismissed.

The settlement deal, which Dr. Chavis made without consulting the NAACP board, called on the Baltimore-based civil rights organization to pay Ms. Stansel up to $332,400 in NAACP money. Dr. Chavis has strenuously denied Ms. Stansel's allegations.

But the secret agreement has prompted calls from outside critics for his resignation and complaints from NAACP board members. The board will meet tomorrow in Baltimore to discuss Dr. Chavis' handling of the Stansel case.

In a written statment, Tom McMahon, press secretary for Mr. Heflin, said: "The senator's office complies with all requests made by government agencies but makes no special effort on any type of claim by its employees."

Former aides to Mr. Heflin, an Alabama Democrat, have said that the

quality of Ms. Stansel's work declined during her tenure as a staffer in the 1980s.

But Mr. McMahon said Ms. Stansel "was not dismissed from Senator Heflin's office, and left in good standing."

Meanwhile, lawyers for Ms. Stansel and the NAACP could face each other in court as early as next month, according to Ms. Stansel's newly hired attorney, Sharon A. Cummings.

Ms. Cummings said she expects a hearing in the case to come in the latter half of September in D.C. Superior Court.

At that hearing, the judge is likely to set a timetable for the case, Ms. Cummings said, adding that it could take anywhere from a year to three years to come to trial.

Ms. Cummings was retained this week by Ms. Stansel, who has refused to comment publicly on the case. Ms. Cummings declined to discuss the substance of Ms. Stansel's charges against Dr. Chavis.

She said Ms. Stansel's "purpose in filing the suit was not to destroy the NAACP. She has the utmost respect for the organization and what it has accomplished, historically and presently."

Ms. Stansel was scheduled to appear in court Wednesday in an unrelated case.

But she was represented by another attorney, Wanda Withers, and did not personally attend.

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