Embattled Chavis Rebuts Latest Charges : NAACP: Second former staffer and he meet the press, say problems are settled. Board may decide director’s fate today.
On the eve of a crucial directors’ meeting that may determine his future at the NAACP, Executive Director Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. appeared Friday at a news conference here in an effort to defuse allegations by a second female employee of job-related impropriety.
Chavis stood beside Susan Tisdale of Cleveland at the news conference. Tisdale told reporters that she had experienced job-related problems with Chavis while employed as an assistant to his wife at the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People. She refused to offer details and insisted that the problems no longer trouble her.
But the Baltimore Sun reported Thursday that the NAACP had received a letter from her lawyer charging sexual harassment by Chavis and wrongful termination.
“The employment concerns I had with Dr. Chavis and the NAACP have been mutually and fully resolved without any monetary compensation or promise of monetary compensation,” said Tisdale, whose husband, Brent Tisdale, also attended the news conference.
Chavis looked on as Tisdale read a five-page statement. She declined to answer questions.
For Chavis, the news conference offered a final opportunity to put his spin on today’s board meeting as he fights to retain his office in the wake of the scandal that erupted when the NAACP board learned he had used organization money to pay off another former employee who alleged that she had suffered sexual discrimination.
Last month, Mary E. Stansel, who served as Chavis’ aide for about five weeks, filed suit against the NAACP and its executive director, citing a breach of contract in their failure to pay her $250,000 of a secretly brokered settlement to avoid charges of sexual discrimination and wrongful termination.
In that case, Chavis promised to help her find an $80,000-a-year job in the Washington area and to give her $84,000--including $64,000 of the NAACP’s money--as part of a promised $332,000 settlement.
Some of the 64 board members were outraged that Chavis acted without their knowledge and are expected to seek his dismissal during the closed session today at the group’s headquarters. Chavis has argued that it was within his authority as chief executive to settle employment complaints without notifying the board.
The latest controversy further complicates Chavis’ efforts to keep his job.
“There is no dispute between Ms. Tisdale and I,” Chavis said testily when asked if he had a problem with female employees. “There was a misunderstanding between Ms. Tisdale and myself about employment. As a result of discussions we’ve had, we’ve resolved those. There is no sexual harassment and no sexual discrimination.”
That conclusion, however, seems to contradict legal papers contained in a confidential report prepared by Chavis’ attorneys and given to board members last week in preparation of the meeting. In the papers, attorneys representing Tisdale argue that “she was subject to advances by Dr. Chavis and as a result she was suffering from emotional duress.” The papers note that Tisdale requested $100,000 in compensation from Chavis and he refused to settle with her.
At the news conference, Tisdale said she has known Chavis and his family for about two years, noting that when the Chavis family lived in Cleveland, “our children played together and our families socialized regularly.”
She said she accepted a job at the NAACP in January and lived briefly at the Chavis house--with his wife, Martha, and their two children--before her family relocated to Baltimore. After working several months at the NAACP headquarters as an assistant to Martha Chavis, who is the unpaid director of a program called Women In the NAACP, Tisdale said “employment concerns developed.”
The Baltimore Sun reported Friday that the legal papers show that she wrote to Chavis and demanded reassignment to another job within the NAACP after she was fired by Martha Chavis.
“Given that you cannot provide me with a safe working environment because Mrs. Chavis has unlawfully forced me out of my position as executive secretary for WIN based on non-business-related reasons, I respectfully request to be reassigned to another position in the building,” the letter said.
Both Tisdale and Chavis chastised board members for disclosing to reporters the legal documents, which had not been filed and were still being negotiated by lawyers. They also denounced the media for pursuing the matter while Chavis is struggling to keep his job.
“The nature of the concern was a private matter,” Tisdale said, noting she had tried to settle the matter quietly with the help of lawyers because of her friendship with the Chavis family. “Regretfully, due to this campaign to destroy the career of Dr. Chavis and oust him as executive director of the NAACP, this has now become a public situation.”
Chavis accused “a small . . . number of persons within the NAACP, as well as some more substantial forces outside the NAACP and outside the African American community” with “an orchestrated campaign to defame the NAACP, to defame me and to defame my leadership.”
He said he would expose the conspirators to his board and that it would be up to the board to deal with it. “We in the NAACP are under attack,” he said.
Chavis admitted that he has been hurt by steady pounding from news reports and his critics.
“When you are the subject of daily news coverage, most of which is inaccurate and based on false information, it does take its toll,” he said. “But . . . I have no intention of resigning from the NAACP.”