NAACP agrees to extend Chavis' health insurance

September 03, 1994|By James Bock | James Bock,Sun Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- At a judge's urging, an NAACP lawyer pledged yesterday to extend the health insurance coverage of fired Executive Director Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. through the end of October, when Dr. Chavis' wife, Martha, is due to have twins.

The move came during a status hearing on Dr. Chavis' suit against the NAACP in District of Columbia Superior Court. An Oct. 24 hearing was scheduled on Dr. Chavis' request for a preliminary injunction to block the NAACP from firing him.

Attorneys for both sides said they would try to settle the dispute before then. The lawyers met once this week. Neither side would discuss the negotiations.

Dr. Chavis called the extension of his insurance, which was to expire Sept. 20, an "incremental step towards justice." He alleges that the Baltimore-based National Association for the Advancement of Colored People fired him without adequate notice or a full hearing.

The 46-year-old activist lost his $200,000-a-year job Aug. 20 after the NAACP board learned he had made a secret deal that committed the organization to pay Mary E. Stansel, a former aide, up to $332,400 to fend off a threatened lawsuit. Ms. Stansel has accused Dr. Chavis of sexually harassing her. He denies the charge.

Dr. Chavis left yesterday for Atlanta, the first stop on a 15-city "victory tour" to promote the National African-American Leadership Summit. He began the gatherings of black leaders as NAACP executive director, but is continuing them on his own.

He is scheduled to be grand marshal of Brooklyn, N.Y.'s huge West Indian Day parade Monday. He said he would urge people to "join the NAACP at the grass roots" and help to change the group.

Meanwhile, the NAACP, battered by the Chavis controversy and facing a deficit of more than $3 million left behind by the fired leader, has asked its branches and state conferences to donate $1,000 each toward stemming the red ink.

In an Aug. 29 letter, Earl T. Shinhoster, interim senior administrator, called on the civil rights group's 2,200 units across the country to make Sept. 18 "NAACP Sunday" and hold fund-raising events.

Baltimore's NAACP branch is to hold its major annual fund-raiser later that week. The $100-a-plate Unity Banquet is set for Sept. 21 at Martin's West.

Plans are also being made for a fund-raiser, a "showcase of local talent," the next weekend at Pier 6, said Rodney Orange, branch president.

"I certainly would be willing to help the national because that's part of my responsibility as local president," Mr. Orange said. "Whatever we raise, 50 percent would be for the national."

Mr. Shinhoster said in an interview that the NAACP would also have to cut costs. He said layoffs of some of the 125 staff members were a possibility, but only as a "last resort." Dr. Chavis dismissed 10 employees in June and said more cuts were to come. "Obviously the situation has not changed for the better," Mr. Shinhoster said. "But we are not actively pursuing that course of action [layoffs]. We're looking at every alternative, everything short of that."

Mr. Shinhoster said the NAACP would shore up ties with corporate and foundation donors. He said a meeting is scheduled next week with the Ford Foundation, which held up disbursement of a $250,000 grant when the Chavis controversy became public. Mr. Shinhoster said that while Dr. Chavis' firing angered some NAACP youths, "the bottom line is we've not lost significant numbers of young people -- or other members -- due to this series of events."

Yesterday's pledge to extend Dr. Chavis' health insurance came during an exchange between Judge Richard Salzman and Lawrence S. Greenwald, an attorney representing the NAACP, during a largely procedural, 26-minute hearing.

After Abbey G. Hairston, Dr. Chavis' lawyer, pressed for an early court date because the ousted leader soon would lose his insurance, Judge Salzman asked Mr. Greenwald whether the NAACP would extend the coverage.

Mr. Greenwald at first wouldn't give a definitive answer, but the judge persisted: "Mr. Greenwald, we're talking about another month. Is it so terrible?"

However, when Ms. Hairston raised the issue of Dr. Chavis' lost income, Judge Salzman cut her off and said Dr. Chavis would have to prove his case to recover any back pay.

"Typically, one of the major problems is that a fired employee doesn't get paid," the judge said. "He's no different from any other employee in that regard."

Judge Salzman urged the parties to settle, saying that "a poor settlement is better than a fat lawsuit any day." He also questioned whether the District of Columbia was the proper venue for a case involving the NAACP, which is incorporated in New York and has headquarters in Baltimore. Another judge ruled last week that the case could proceed in Washington.

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