WASHINGTON -- The Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. testified yesterday that the NAACP's board chairman told him to handle a threatened sexual-harassment claim -- which he did by committing up to $332,400 in NAACP funds to keep a former female aide from going public.
Chavis said then-Chairman William F. Gibson told him: "You hired this lady, you fired her, now she's coming back making claims against the NAACP. Try to settle this matter."
Chavis took the stand for the second day in the civil trial of Mary E. Stansel's lawsuit against the NAACP.
Stansel says Chavis intimidated her into having sex with him, which he denies, and then broke his promise to get her a job offer or pay her money.
At issue is whether the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People shares responsibility with Chavis for paying Stansel $245,200. She worked six weeks at the NAACP.
A District of Columbia Superior Court judge has ruled that Chavis is personally responsible.
The former NAACP executive director was fired in August 1994 after the November 1993 Stansel settlement became public. He made the deal without telling the NAACP board or general counsel.
Asked by Stansel's lawyer yesterday if he tried to conceal the agreement, Chavis said: "No, absolutely not. There was nothing to cover up."
Chavis testified most of the day without the jury present as lawyers argued over whether evidence should be admitted.
Lawyers for Chavis and Stansel wanted to establish that Chavis had authority to make the deal and that such settlements were business as usual at the NAACP, while the organization's lawyers said the evidence was not relevant.
Chavis said he found files that showed his predecessor, the Rev. Benjamin L. Hooks, settled a sexual-harassment case brought by Yvonne Cook, a former NAACP secretary, without telling Gibson.
An angry Hooks denied Chavis' account.
"He's lying, just lying," he said in a telephone interview. "There's no truth in it at all."
Hooks said that Cook did file an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint, but that the NAACP "did not pay one dime to Yvonne Cook. Gibson couldn't know of the settlement because there was none made." He said Cook did not charge him with any sexual impropriety.
Cook could not be reached.
Lawrence S. Greenwald, representing the NAACP, noted inconsistencies between Chavis' testimony yesterday and depositions he gave last year. He called Chavis' account of the Hooks matter "speculation and hearsay."
Chavis also testified that he took out a $1.5 million line of credit to pay NAACP debts without board approval, and entered on his own into a $100,000 settlement with the Internal Revenue Service because NAACP branches were improperly soliciting tax-deductible donations.
He said that he talked with Gibson almost daily during his 16-month NAACP tenure and that the NAACP constitution then gave the chairman power to act on the board's behalf.
Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. ordered Chavis, Stansel and Dennis Courtland Hayes, the NAACP's general counsel, not to talk to the news media.
Chavis told reporters Tuesday that the trial would prove Stansel's allegations to be false and show that he had authority to settle claims. He said he made the deal to "protect the NAACP."
Pub Date: 5/23/96