Chavis told to pay up to $245,200 to former aide to fulfill settlement Ruling leaves liability of NAACP undecided

November 23, 1995|By James Bock | James Bock,SUN STAFF

The Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., the fired NAACP leader who was national director of the Million Man March, has been ordered to pay up to $245,200 to a former aide who accused him of sexual discrimination and harassment.

Dr. Chavis bears personal responsibility for a 1993 settlement in which he agreed to pay Mary E. Stansel, his former assistant, up to $332,400 in NAACP funds, a Washington judge ruled Tuesday. Ms. Stansel was paid more than $80,000 under the agreement, (( but she sued Dr. Chavis and the NAACP when the payments stopped.

Left undecided by the judge's order was whether the Baltimore-based National Association for the Advancement of Colored People shares responsibility with Dr. Chavis for paying Ms. Stansel.

The NAACP, which is $3.2 million in debt, has argued that Dr. Chavis entered into the agreement without its board's knowledge or approval.

The judge is expected to rule on that aspect of the case soon, said Richard B. Nettler, a lawyer for Ms. Stansel.

The Stansel case triggered the downfall of Dr. Chavis, who was named NAACP executive director in April 1993. The civil rights group's board fired him in August 1994 after discovering he had made the settlement without consulting the board or NAACP lawyers.

Dr. Chavis' deal with Ms. Stansel "may appear to be a remarkably imprudent decision," Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. of the District of Columbia Superior Court wrote in his order. "The agreement, however, being plain and unambiguous, may not be rewritten in order to relieve Chavis from a bargain that perhaps did not turn out to be to his advantage."

Neither Dr. Chavis, 47, nor his attorneys returned phone calls yesterday. There was no indication of whether they planned to appeal.

The NAACP's general counsel could not be reached.

Mr. Nettler said Ms. Stansel, 50, was "very happy about the case coming very close to a conclusion."

Her lawyers would not say whether she is employed now.

If the court rules that the NAACP shares liability with Dr. Chavis for the settlement, "we will obviously seek to have the full amount paid by either one," Mr. Nettler said. "We will go after each of them equally."

Dr. Chavis hired Ms. Stansel, a lawyer and former U.S. Senate aide who had helped him win the $200,000-a-year NAACP job, in April 1993. She was placed on unpaid administrative leave about a month later and then fired, according to court papers. Ms. Stansel has not made public the exact nature of her claims against Dr. Chavis.

After Ms. Stansel threatened to file a complaint against him and the NAACP with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Dr. Chavis settled with her in November 1993. When the debt-ridden NAACP cut off payments, she sued in June 1994 for breach of contract. The suit made public her secret deal with Dr. Chavis and touched off a furor that ended in his ouster.

In the settlement, Dr. Chavis committed the NAACP to pay Ms. Stansel $250,000 unless he could find her an $80,000-a-year job within six months. He did not but later argued that Ms. Stansel was unqualified for such a post and did not show up for job interviews.

Ms. Stansel was not "truly desirous of obtaining a job" but was "simply attempting to extract moneys from the NAACP to avoid having to work," Dr. Chavis' lawyers argued.

But Judge Kennedy ruled that Dr. Chavis produced no evidence to support his contentions. Ms. Stansel's only obligations under the agreement were not to sue Dr. Chavis and the NAACP, and to be "reasonably available" for job interviews, the judge said.

"Chavis obviously miscalculated the degree to which his reputation and prestige could achieve the goal of securing an offer of a relatively high-level employment offer for someone whom he did not desire to employ," the judge wrote.

The NAACP still has not replaced Dr. Chavis. A search committee is expected to recommend a new executive director for the board's approval next month.

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