Chavis, NAACP reach settlement, but details are secret

October 22, 1994|By Michael James and James Bock | Michael James and James Bock,Sun Staff Writers

The NAACP settled a lawsuit yesterday with the Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., the former executive director who claimed he was wrongfully fired from his $200,000-a-year job after controversy over alleged financial improprieties.

But details of the settlement were being kept secret yesterday as attorneys, Dr. Chavis and NAACP leaders deferred comment until Monday afternoon when the specifics will be released publicly.

"All I can say is that the matter has been resolved through mediation," said Robert Barnett, a Washington attorney who was appointed by a judge last month to act as a mediator. "Both parties have signed the resolution, but we've agreed we'll wait before releasing the details."

The announcement came three days before District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Richard Salzman was to hear arguments by Dr. Chavis' lawyers that he was improperly dismissed.

Dr. Chavis, who was executive director for 16 months before being fired, said only, "I'm grateful that this matter has been finally resolved."

Lawrence S. Greenwald, an attorney representing the NAACP, also refused to discuss the settlement's details, adding, "I'm not at liberty to characterize our feelings about it."

Joseph E. Madison, an NAACP board member who led the move to oust Dr. Chavis, said he knew nothing about the terms of the settlement.

"I'm just happy they reached a settlement so we can get this behind us, Chavis can get on with his life, and the NAACP can get back to the work of civil rights."

Dr. Chavis' firing Aug. 20 came three weeks after Mary E. Stansel, a former Chavis aide, sued him and the NAACP for breach of contract. She alleged that Dr. Chavis had reneged on paying her $250,000 as agreed in a November 1993 settlement of a sexual harassment claim against him.

However, neither the 64-member NAACP board nor the group's in-house counsel was aware that Dr. Chavis had made the deal -- and already paid Ms. Stansel $82,400 -- until it was reported in the press July 29.

Dr. William F. Gibson, the NAACP's board chairman, at first defended Dr. Chavis as having properly exercised his executive authority. But as outraged board members kept questioning the deal, Dr. Gibson distanced himself from the 46-year-old executive director.

At the Aug. 20 meeting, the 58 board members voted overwhelmingly to dismiss Dr. Chavis. Only five board members held out against firing him.

Dr. Chavis' suit against the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People maintained that the organization violated its own bylaws in firing him. Without disputing the board's desire to dismiss him, he alleged that the board neither gave him adequate notice that he might be fired nor a fair hearing.

Dr. Gibson said the night of Dr. Chavis' firing that the NAACP wanted to reach a severance agreement with the ousted chief executive. But talks apparently went nowhere and Judge Salzman appointed Mr. Barnett to mediate the dispute.

In the meantime, the NAACP filed a counterclaim against Dr. Chavis for $82,400, contending that he paid Ms. Stansel without authorization. The NAACP also argued in the still-unsettled Stansel case that if she were to collect the $250,000, Dr. Chavis -- and not the NAACP -- should be liable.

After Dr. Chavis was fired, board members were told that in addition to his $200,000 salary, the executive director had received an $80,000 advance to help pay for his $478,000 house in Ellicott City, NAACP sources said.

Many NAACP board members felt that Dr. Chavis was owed nothing -- and that his tenure, which ended with the NAACP $3.8 million in debt, was costly enough to the civil rights group. In a deposition of Dr. Gibson obtained by The Sun, the chairman said he understood that the Chavis side had asked for a settlement of $750,000.

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