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.
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.
A separate memo shows that Mfume has faced questions about his romantic relationships with NAACP employees going back to 1998. In 1999, staff lawyers conducted an inquiry after two women got into a loud verbal altercation, allegedly over his attentions. One woman was disciplined; the other was promoted several months later, according to one document.
The altercation is described in a May 24, 1999, internal memo that lawyers for the NAACP wrote to Bond. “There appeared to be a widespread belief in the organization that President Mfume had displayed preferential treatment” to one of the women “based on a possible dating relationship,” the memo says.
The lawyers then questioned whether Mfume “interfered with this inquiry by exerting improper influence on two key witnesses.” Also, according to the memo, Mfume refused to answer questions in the inquiry.
Mfume acknowledged yesterday that he dated one of the women in that altercation, a female NAACP employee, for “three months” and later adopted her 4-year-old son. The boy is now 15, he said. The woman now works for the Maryland Department of Transportation.
To bolster her analysis, Goodman details salary information for several women who worked at the NAACP’s national headquarters in Baltimore and states that those rumored to have close relationships with Mfume, or with his son, have fared better than those who did not.