The screaming match between Monica McCullough and Tiffany Hawthorne at the NAACP's national headquarters in Baltimore was getting out of hand when three co-workers tried to intervene.
But it was too late. McCullough had lunged over a colleague and struck Hawthorne in the face. The fight that ensued sent Hawthorne to Mercy Hospital's emergency room with swelling and bruises to her face and hands, according to her application for a protective order. The two women were granted restraining orders.
"It was an open secret that the place was just unprofessional," said Michael Meyers, who worked at NAACP before arrival of Kweisi Mfume, above.
(Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
The Feb. 26, 2004, altercation, described in the court document, bolsters claims in an internal NAACP report made public this week that there was a poisonous atmosphere under Kweisi Mfume's watch at the nation's oldest civil rights organization.
Mfume, who stepped down as NAACP president in November and who has launched a Maryland campaign for U.S. Senate, has denied allegations in the memo that he gave preferential treatment to female employees he dated, causing unrest in the office. Mfume said he left behind an organization that was stronger and more healthy than when he arrived nine years earlier.
But the emergence of the document has made plain that his campaign for the Senate will open the book on Mfume's public and private life, including the former congressman's reign at the NAACP.
Top leaders of the civil rights organization, interviewed this week as they gathered at Harvard University for a board meeting, said they believe that the attention will work to Mfume's advantage.
"He was good at outreach, he's tremendously bright, he's good with people," said NAACP Chairman Julian Bond, who at times clashed with Mfume. "He made a wonderful ambassador for us."
But many said they believe the memo will offer a rare, candid glimpse inside an organization.
"It was an open secret that the place was just unprofessional," said Michael Meyers, who worked at the NAACP before Mfume became its president.
Meyers, who is executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition, said he has been told of "a general climate of favoritism and cronyism. People were backbiting, and jockeying for position based on who knew whom, who was close to Kweisi, who was close to his son."
The report was prepared for top NAACP officials last summer by Chicago labor lawyer Marcia E. Goodman, who was hired to assess the organization's legal liability involving claims of workplace discrimination by Michele Speaks, a midlevel employee in the development department.
In the memo, Goodman did not try to reach a firm conclusion about the veracity of Speaks's allegations, but she determined that several claims could be "very difficult to defend persuasively" if Speaks filed a lawsuit.
Taken together, the 10 allegations reviewed by Goodman portray the organization's national headquarters as the set of a soap opera, where romantic relationships, jealousy and betrayal were as much a part of daily life as fundraising, education and fighting prejudice.
According to the memo, Speaks described nine women employees as "paramours" of Mfume or his son, and she alleged that those women were rewarded with promotions and raises. Goodman analyzed their salaries and believed that several of the women identified by Speaks advanced faster, with higher pay, than others in the office.