Chavis loses court bid to regain NAACP post

August 25, 1994|By James Bock | James Bock,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Ann LoLordo contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON — An article in The Sun yesterday misstated the purpose of a Sept. 2 court hearing in the Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr.'s lawsuit against the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The hearing concerns Dr. Chavis' request for a preliminary injunction.

The Sun regrets the errors.

WASHINGTON -- Fired NAACP Executive Director Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. lost his court bid yesterday to get his job back immediately, but NAACP lawyers said they would meet with him soon to negotiate severance.

Judge Herbert B. Dixon Jr. of District of Columbia Superior Court refused to issue an emergency order to reinstate Dr. Chavis as leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. But the judge set a Sept. 2 hearing on Dr. Chavis' request for a permanent injunction.


Dr. Chavis alleged that the NAACP board violated its bylaws when it dismissed him Saturday.

The judge said the Chavis-NAACP case was essentially a contract dispute. He suggested that Dr. Chavis' recourse was not to seek a temporary restraining order, but to sue the NAACP for breach of contract.

Dr. Chavis vowed to keep fighting in court to block his firing, but then he said he hoped to "avert a full-blown court battle."

"All I want is fair treatment," Dr. Chavis told reporters outside the courthouse. "I want my civil rights respected by the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization."

When Dr. Chavis was fired, he lost a job with a $200,000-a-year base salary, cost-of-living and merit pay increases, free health and life insurance, a housing allowance, and travel and entertainment expenses while on NAACP business. His three-year contract, which many NAACP board members have never seen, was made part of the court record.

For the 46-year-old minister, who made $64,000 in 1991 as executive director of the United Church of Christ's Commission for Racial Justice, moving to the NAACP was a giant step up in pay and perks.

$478,000 house

His salary this year would have been $206,000 (after a Jan. 1 cost-of-living adjustment) plus any merit increases he may have received. He lives in a $478,000 house in Howard County and carries a $428,000 mortgage. The contract doesn't say how much his housing allowance provided. Dr. Chavis' predecessor, the Rev. Benjamin L. Hooks, was paid $190,285 (including a large bonus) in 1992, his last full year on the job, and $137,748 in 1991, according to NAACP financial reports.

The NAACP paid premiums on a $1 million life insurance policy for Dr. Chavis. Had he died, the NAACP would have collected $500,000 and his beneficiaries the other half.

The contract, signed by Dr. Chavis and NAACP Chairman William F. Gibson, provided for Dr. Chavis' dismissal for cause, including "conduct inimical to the best interest of the NAACP" -- the language adopted by the NAACP board when it voted 53-5 to fire him.

Dr. Chavis was dismissed after committing the NAACP to pay Mary E. Stansel, a former aide, up to $332,400 without telling the board or the NAACP general counsel.

Ms. Stansel, who worked at the NAACP for six weeks in the spring of 1993, has alleged in court that Dr. Chavis sexually harassed her. He denies the allegation.

Severance negotiations

In announcing Dr. Chavis' ouster Saturday night, Dr. Gibson said the board would negotiate "a separation and severance agreement in order to bring this matter to a conclusion."

Dennis Courtland Hayes, NAACP general counsel, said the organization hadn't had time to negotiate with Dr. Chavis because NAACP lawyers had been busy fighting the lawsuit he filed Monday night.

"We've always been willing to talk to Dr. Chavis. I don't think he bothered to ask," Mr. Hayes said yesterday.

Mr. Hayes said the parties would "definitely" meet before Sept. 2.

Dr. Chavis' suit contends that the NAACP board neither gave him adequate notice that he might be fired nor offered him a full hearing.

However, Mr. Hayes said NAACP officials offered Dr. Chavis a chance to resign on the eve of Saturday's board meeting, but that he refused.

He said Dr. Chavis and his lawyers had "every opportunity" to present their case to the board.

"The NAACP did not know Mary Stansel before Dr. Chavis brought her to the table," Mr. Hayes said. "I reject the notion that the NAACP should feel guilty for what happened."

Future as speaker

Mr. Hayes also disputed Dr. Chavis' argument that he would not be able to provide for his family. The NAACP lawyer said Dr. Chavis could make a living as a public speaker.

Meanwhile, Don Rojas, the NAACP's director of communications and a close Chavis adviser, said the locks on his office at NAACP headquarters in Northwest Baltimore had been changed, but that no one had informed him that he was fired or suspended.

Mr. Rojas said NAACP security guards told him that he and two other members of the Chavis team -- Lewis Myers Jr., deputy executive director, and Lorena Wallace, comptroller -- weren't allowed in the building. Neither Mr. Myers nor Ms. Wallace would comment.

Terhea A. Washington, NAACP public relations director, said she had no information about the Chavis aides' status.

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