Sharon Bialek accuses Herman Cain of sexual harassment as she sought help getting a job


Sharon Bialek attends a news conference to accuse Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain of sexual harassment on November 7, 2011 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/GETTY IMAGES)

Sharon Bialek, a Chicago woman who worked at the National Restaurant Association in the mid-1990s has come forward to say that Herman Cain sexually harassed her while she was looking for a job. In graphic detail, Bialek described an encounter with Cain that happened in July of 1997 in Washington, D.C., that left the woman shaken and embarrassed.

After being let go by the NRA foundation, Bialek, who had met Cain on several occasions during conferences and at a dinner, reached out to Cain to obtain guidance on getting a new job. The NRA confirmed on Monday afternoon that Bialek had worked for its education foundation from December 1996 to June 1997.

During their meeting, Bialek alleges that Cain put his hand under her skirt and reached for her genitals and also pushed her head toward his crotch while they were in a car.

She recalls saying: “This isn’t what I came here for, Mr. Cain.”

The now-GOP presidential candidate responded, according to Bialek, “You want a job, right?”

Cain’s campaign, which has been trying to redirect the focus from sexual harassment and has denied all of the allegations, released this statement:

“Just as the country finally begins to refocus on our crippling $15 trillion national debt and the unacceptably high unemployment rate, now activist celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred is bringing forth more false accusations against the character of Republican front-runner Herman Cain,” said Cain spokesman J.D. Gordon in the statement.

“All allegations of harassment against Mr. Cain are completely false. Mr. Cain has never harassed anyone. Fortunately the American people will not allow Mr. Cain’s bold ‘9-9-9 Plan,’ clear foreign policy vision and plans for energy independence to be overshadowed by these bogus attacks.”

Immediately following the incident, Bialek — who is a registered Republican, homemaker, and single mom — said that she told her then-boyfriend and another person, according to her lawyer, Gloria Allred. Allred presented the two sworn statements of the people Bialek told at the news conference.

Speaking at a news conference in New York, Bialek said that she spoke out in order “to give a face and a voice to those other women” who chose not to, referring to two women who filed complaints against Cain, but have thus far remained anonymous.

“I want you, Mr. Cain, to come clean,” Bialek said. “I implore you, make this right.”

Before Monday’s allegations came to light, three other women alleged sexual harassment against Cain — two received settlements and one thought about filing a complaint, but did not, according to an Associated Press report.

Joel P. Bennett, who represented another woman who issued a statement last week saying she was a victim of serial sexual harassment by Cain, said the similarities between his client and Bialek were remarkable. Bennett has never revealed the details of the sexual harassment of his client, who has gone on to have a successful career in the federal government.

“The conduct is similar,” Bennett said. Asked which conduct, he said, “I can’t get more specific. But I consider it corroborating evidence. It is similar conduct by the same person.”

Had his case with his client gone forward, Bennett said Bialek could have been used as a witness in his case. “I certainly would have tried to because it is similar conduct by the same person.”

Bennett said that he believes Bialek is the same woman who called his office last Tuesday or Wednesday and said she wanted to go public. When he returned a message from his voice mail the next day, she had changed her mind. She had said her name was Sharon, had a Chicago area code, and worked for the NRA’s foundation office in Chicago.

Allred, a Los Angeles lawyer, has been involved in several high-profile cases involving politicians. She represented Nicandra Diaz Santillan, a housekeeper for Meg Whitman, who claimed that the gubernatorial candidate fired her after learning that she was undocumented. She also represented two of the women who claimed to have had dalliances with golfer Tiger Woods, and porn star Ginger Lee, who alleged that ex-congressman Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) told her to lie about his online activity.

“If all of these allegations ... are true, then I for one am disgusted at Mr. Cain’s serial sexual harassment of women,” Allred said at Monday’s press conference with Bialek. “Mr. Cain ...while running for president, is actively lying to Americans ... it is time to hold politicians to a higher standard ... we need to know the truth about those who are running for office.”

The National Restaurant Association released a statement Friday confirming that over a decade ago, a female employee filed a formal complaint of sexual harassment against then-association head Cain.

Cain disputed the allegations at the time, according to the trade group, and the Republican presidential hopeful has continued to deny that he sexually harassed anyone, though he has acknowledged that one woman filed a complaint and received a settlement.

Cain’s campaign has tried to move forward and has said that he doesn’t plan to answer more questions on the issue. But prominent Republicans like Haley Barbour and Karl Rove insist that Cain must disclose all the facts before he can expect to truly continue his White House bid.

On Monday, the former Godfather’s pizza CEO is scheduled to appear on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”and have private meetings in California.

“I am in it to win it. And far as we’re concerned, these allegations aren’t going anywhere,” Cain said on Fox News. “I mean people might make up some more stuff.”

Monday’s news conference marked the first time that any of Cain’s accusers have actually come forward and stated publicly that Cain acted inappropriately. Politico reported a week ago that two women filed complaints with the restaurant trade group when Cain was chairman in the 1990s.

The trade group confirmed that a woman had filed a complaint of harassment against Cain while he worked there and said it was willing to waive the terms of a confidentiality agreement that the woman and the group had signed (though Cain had not).

But Bennett, the attorney for one of the women with such an agreement, said that his client wishes to remain private and would not be revealing further details regarding her story.

“My client stands by the complaint she made,” Bennett said.

In the statement late Friday afternoon, Gordon said: “We look forward to focusing our attention on the real issues impacting this country — like fixing this broken economy and putting Americans back to work through our 9-9-9 plan, as well as strengthening national security.”

Bennett said that for his client, revisiting the incident, which he said occurred over a month’s time and happened more than once, would be “extremely painful.”

“Mr. Cain knows the specific incidents that were alleged,” Bennett said. “If he chooses not to remember or not acknowledge those, that’s his issue.”

The matter was resolved in September 1999, Bennett said, adding that his client was “very upset at the time.”

“The fact that there is more than one complainant is meaningful,” Bennett said on Friday.

Since the scandal broke nearly a week ago, Cain has tried to reboot his campaign, which according to aides has raked in $2 million since the allegations came to light a week ago.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll published Friday shows Cain virtually tied with former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney for the lead in the race for the GOP nomination, with most Republicans shrugging off the allegations but sizeable minorities nevertheless saying the scandal could make them less likely to vote for him.

Nia-Malika Henderson is a political reporter for The Fix.
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