Mfume Accused of Favoritism At NAACP
Thursday, April 28, 2005
Allegations detailed in a confidential NAACP report claim that Kweisi Mfume gave raises and promotions to women with whom he had close personal relationships while he was president of the nation's oldest civil rights organization.
The 22-page memorandum, prepared last summer by an outside lawyer, did not accept as true the claims lodged against Mfume by a female employee but determined that they could be "very difficult to defend persuasively" if she filed a lawsuit.
Mfume, 56, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in Maryland, has denied the allegations. In an interview yesterday, he said the allegations in no way influenced his Nov. 30 announcement that he would leave the NAACP after nine years.
"I don't engage in inappropriate behavior," he said in the interview. "And if I did, I'm sure after nine years there, 10 years in the Congress and seven years on the [Baltimore] City Council, it would have been an issue long before your telephone call to me."
Disclosure of the report could prove sensitive for Mfume, who has ascended the political ranks in part on the basis of his compelling personal narrative. He overcame teenage years spent running in street gangs to become a five-term congressman and head the prominent civil rights organization.
The matter also could be delicate for the NAACP. Mfume took over the group from interim head Earl T. Shinhoster in 1996 when it was still reeling from the turbulent 16-month tenure of Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. Chavis was removed in 1994 after he agreed to secretly pay $332,400 in NAACP funds to settle claims of sexual discrimination by a female aide.
Members of the NAACP executive committee first saw the report detailing the allegations against Mfume at an October meeting in Washington, about a month before Mfume announced his decision to step down. The document has been a closely guarded secret -- one board member said the copies that were distributed were numbered and collected after the meeting. Most members reached this week declined to discuss it.
The document was intended as an assessment of the allegations as the organization's leaders evaluated how to handle the claims of the mid-level employee, Michele Speaks.
Speaks hired an attorney and asked for $140,000, two years' salary, in exchange for agreeing not to file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or pursuing a lawsuit, according to the report. Speaks could not be reached for comment. Her attorney, Kathleen Cahill, declined to comment.
The NAACP hired Marcia E. Goodman, a Chicago employment lawyer, to analyze Speaks's allegations. In the memo, Goodman concluded that some of Speaks's claims -- including an assertion that Mfume "touched her on the hip" -- largely amounted to a "he said-she said" dispute. But Goodman wrote that others were more problematic.
Speaks could mount a credible claim of workplace harassment because of "the impression [that was] created that a woman must provide sexual favors to Mr. Mfume or his associates in order to receive favorable treatment in the workplace," the lawyer wrote in the memo.
In an interview yesterday, NAACP Chairman Julian Bond would not say whether the organization's board ultimately decided to pay Speaks.