Chavis Said Eager to Explain Sex-Bias Case Settlement : NAACP: Attorney says executive director wants to make clear why he OKd spending $332,400 to settle a suit against him. Some board members are furious.


The executive director of the NAACP, under fire for failing to tell board members that he had authorized spending $332,400 to settle a threatened sex-discrimination lawsuit against him, “is anxious to clear the air and meet with the board,” his attorney said Friday.

Attorney Abbey Hairston said that Executive Director Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. believed that he had “full authority” to make such a payment from the treasury of the financially strapped organization. Only $80,000 has been expended so far, she said.

“A full report will be made to board members and they will have a chance to work their will,” Hairston said in an interview.


Chavis, who is returning from an overseas trip, “never tried to hide this from the board,” Hairston said. She said that a former NAACP employee, Mary E. Stansel, has accused Chavis of reneging on a promise to her of a better job and of promoting male employees instead. But no sexual harassment charges have been raised, Hairston said.

Some of the 64 board members of the civil rights organization are up in arms and demanding an explanation. Joe Madison, who has often had disputes with Chavis during the executive director’s first year in office, told reporters Friday that no such agreement could be entered into without a board vote. Another member, Mark Steppe of Detroit, called it “a moral fraud.”

Others, however, said Friday that they were willing to wait for an explanation from Chavis. Kelly Alexander Jr., a North Carolina board member, said: “I think it’s premature for anybody to react.”

Some board members complained that Chavis had not mentioned the case to them when he was asked about pending lawsuits during a convention in Chicago earlier this month.

Hairston, however, said that notice of this lawsuit was not provided to Chavis in a timely fashion. “He didn’t know about it when he went to Chicago,” she said.

Chavis previously has come under criticism for announcing NAACP plans without first informing board members. In addition, the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization has encountered financial problems as membership has dropped from a high of 1 million in the 1960s to under 500,000 in the early 1990s.


Board Chairman William F. Gibson, however, has come to Chavis’ defense, declaring that the agreement was within his “executive authority.”

In a statement, Gibson said that Stansel’s threatened lawsuit came as Chavis “was embarking upon the development of new strategies to redress the critical socioeconomic conditions facing the African American community.” The settlement “removed the threat of disruption of the operation of the NAACP,” Gibson said.

Hairston said that Stansel, having been given a temporary six-week position last year, was “embittered” when she was not hired permanently. After she threatened to go public with a damaging suit against him, Chavis agreed last November to reach a monetary settlement with her and to help her find another job outside the organization, Hairston said.

Stansel, who is a lawyer, could not be reached Friday for comment.

According to Hairston, the settlement called for Stansel to be paid two installments of $25,000 each and then $5,400 a month for six months. If she did not have a job offer after six months, the NAACP was to pay her $250,000.

But the attorney said that Chavis felt confident “from the very beginning that he could get her a job and that this settlement was therefore the best course of action. He discovered, however, that despite his best efforts he could not do it.”

In May, Chavis “put Ms. Stansel on notice that he was having a difficult time finding work for her and the monthly payments stopped in June,” she said. She described Stansel as a former supporter of Chavis who had helped him win election last year as executive director.


Failing in his employment efforts, Chavis asked Stansel to give him a better resume that described her job qualifications in more detail “but her response was: I want my money,” Hairston said.

On June 30, Stansel filed a civil lawsuit in District of Columbia Superior Court claiming that the NAACP owed her an additional $250,000.

Hairston said she has been told that Stansel “may have a litigious background,” having lost a sex-discrimination case against now-defunct Eastern Airlines and having sued or threatened to sue a bar association in Alabama until officials there paid her $10,000.