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Cain Accuser Won't Release Name As New Details Of Harassment Emerge

Nov 3, 2011
Originally published on November 3, 2011 6:19 pm

One of two women who settled sexual harassment complaints against GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain when he headed the National Restaurant Association will know by Friday whether the group will release her from a confidentiality clause that prevents her from speaking about the agreement.

The woman, however, is unlikely to go public even if the lobbying group lifts the confidentiality requirements imposed as part of the 1999 cash settlement, her lawyer says.

"My expectation is if we reach an agreement, the statement that will be issued will not identify her," lawyer Joel Bennett told NPR. "I have no intention of releasing her name."

"My understanding is also that she has no intention of releasing her name," Bennett said. "She's a private person who does not want to become a public figure."

People who had direct knowledge of the complaints at the time have told NPR that they detail persistent harassment by Cain.

The harassment has been described to NPR as frequent, usually but not exclusively verbal, and involving sexually graphic comments and approaches when the women were alone with him in work situations.

Those same sources also say that the two women independently pursued their complaints, unaware of the other's claim, and that at least one of the women reported her allegations to a supervisor, who passed it on to the organization's human resources department. But the alleged behavior by Cain did not stop, NPR's sources say.

Cain has denied the allegations. When asked for comment, Cain campaign spokesman JD Gordon responded with this statement: "Mr. Cain has said over the past two days at public events that we could see other baseless allegations made against him as this appalling smear campaign continues."

"He has never acted in the way alleged by inside-the-beltway media, and his distinguished record over 40 years spent climbing the corporate ladder speaks for itself," Gordon continued.

"Since his critics have not been successful in attacking his ideas, they are resorting to bitter personal attacks. Mr. Cain deserves better."

The restaurant association in a statement acknowledged Thursday that its outside counsel has been asked to act by Friday afternoon on Bennett's request on behalf of his client.

"We are currently reviewing the document, and we plan to respond tomorrow," said Sue Hensley, Senior Vice President for Public Affairs Communications for the National Restaurant Association.

Bennett also declined to "confirm or deny" a Politico report that his client received $45,000 to settle her complaint against Cain.

A second woman, who also alleged that she was sexually harassed by Cain when he ran the association between 1996 and 1999, reportedly received a year's salary of $35,000 to settle her complaint, according to the New York Times.

Bennett characterized his client as a communications professional who does not want to appear in public or speak on the record. He will handle public statements, Bennett said, until his client advises him otherwise.

A story last Sunday in Politico that revealed the existence of the 12-year-old settlements with the two women started the firestorm around Cain, who has given evolving accounts about his knowledge of the complaints and settlements.

It has also led to a vigorous media pursuit of the women and their identities, a race which is only expected to intensify with the release of Bennett's client from confidentiality restrictions.

Bennett's client currently works for the federal government in a non-political, professional job.

Thursday's developments, and the emergence this week of a third anonymous accuser and a man claiming to have witnessed inappropriate behavior by Cain, continued to complicate his run for the GOP presidential nomination.

Pollster Chris Wilson, who does work for Perry's campaign alleged during an interview with radio station KTOK, says that he saw Cain acting inappropriately toward a female association employee at a suburban Washington restaurant. Wilson was doing work for the association at the time.

As Cain has risen in the polls, so has scrutiny of his past, including his stewardship of the Washington-based restaurant association after he left his position as the head of Godfather's Pizza.

Cain, 65, has characterized the women's claims as false, and described the situations in question as benign. He has suggested that the women who complained about his behavior didn't understand his brand of humor, and accused presidential opponent Rick Perry's campaign of being behind the leak of the more than decade-old allegations.

Perry's campaign has strenuously denied the assertion.

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NPR has learned some of the details of sexual harassment allegations surrounding GOP candidate Herman Cain. It seems that the alleged inappropriate behavior involving female subordinates went beyond verbal. Cain says the accusations are false, a characterizations that one of the woman's lawyers disputes.

Joining us is NPR's Liz Halloran. And, Liz, from the time the story broke four days ago, there have been few specifics as to what Mr. Cain supposedly did. What have you found out?

LIZ HALLORAN, BYLINE: Well, Robert, as this story has played out this week, we've been gathering details, talking to people who have had direct knowledge of the harassment accusations at the time they were made. That would be in the late-1990s, when Mr. Cain ran the restaurant lobbying group, which is based here in D.C. He ran it for about three years.

Let me tell you what we learned from them. The alleged harassment, according to our sources, was persisent. It was usually, but not always, verbal in nature, and it involved sexually graphic comments and approaches. Our sources tell us that those were typically made when the women were alone with Mr. Cain in work situations. We don't have an incident-by-incident accounting but this is how the nature of the harassment has been characterized to us.

SIEGEL: Now, what you found out, this information concerns two different women who actually received cash agreements from the National Restaurant Association after they brought these charges, but Mr. Cain denies that he ever harassed anyone.

HALLORAN: Correct. First of all, he flatly denied that he engaged in harassment. And he's characterized the incidents that led to the complaints as benign and he's also characterized the women as perhaps not understanding his brand of humor. But what's also interesting is that the two women who made these complaints in 1999 did so independently. They did not know that the other had made a complaint.

And as these complaints moved through, they both received settlements. One received a settlement reportedly of about $35,000. The other woman received a settlement reportedly in the range of $45,000. Now, one of the things we also learned is that at least one of the women reported the alleged harassment to her supervisor. Her supervisor ran it up the chain to human resources and the behavior allegedly did not stop.

SIEGEL: Do we know how junior or how senior these women were in the hierarchy of the restaurant association?

HALLORAN: From what we understand, one of them was a junior member of the staff, potentially right out or shortly out of college. And the other woman is a longtime Washington professional, worked in the federal government in federal positions and does so now, and was in a professional position at the lobbying group.

SIEGEL: One of the questions surrounding these women is that their agreements evidently included confidentiality clauses. Does that mean that they're still not going to go public or not seeking to even go public with their stories?

HALLORAN: Well, they have not gone public, despite all of the media attention this week. And what it happening tomorrow is one of the women's lawyers is asking the association to allow her to be released from that confidentiality agreement, so that if she decides to make a statement, if she decides to go public, she can. Her lawyer has indicated to me that she has no intention of going public. She does not want to, she doesn't want to be part of a Washington scandal. So, right now, we don't anticipate that she will go public tomorrow.

SIEGEL: Okay, thank you, Liz.

HALLORAN: Thanks, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Liz Halloran. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.