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Cain Accuser Issues Statement, Alleges 'More Than One Incident' Of Harassment

Joel Bennett, an attorney for a woman who accused Herman Cain of sexual harassment while both worked at the National Restaurant Association, speaks during a news conference outside his office in Washington on Nov. 4.
Jose Luis Magana
Joel Bennett, an attorney for a woman who accused Herman Cain of sexual harassment while both worked at the National Restaurant Association, speaks during a news conference outside his office in Washington on Nov. 4.

A woman who accused GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain of sexual harassment when he headed the National Restaurant Association in the late 1990s alleged Friday that the incidents were "a series of inappropriate behaviors and unwanted advances from the CEO."

In a brief statement released by her lawyer, the woman, who continued to maintain her anonymity, responded to Cain's claims this week that the harassment charges were either false, or that the woman had misinterpreted his brand of humor.

Her lawyer, Joel Bennett, said she decided to make the statement to refute Cain's denial, but declined to provide specific details of the alleged incidents of harassment.

"She has decided to not relive the specifics of the incidents," Bennett said in a statement outside his Georgetown office late Friday afternoon. His client was one of two women who received cash payments in 1999 settlements with the association to resolve harassment complaints.

Bennett also said there was "more than one incident" of harassment but declined to characterize "what was physical, what was verbal."

Cain campaign spokesman J.D. Gordon responded to NPR's request for comment on Bennett's remarks by emailing this statement: "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."

Friday's statement by Bennett was the first direct public comment by the woman since the controversy engulfed Cain early this week after Politico reported the harassment allegations by two women. The second woman has not commented publicly, or released any statements.

Bennett's comments came after he reached agreement with the Washington-based restaurant lobbying group allowing his client to speak about the confidential agreement that had settled the complaint a dozen years ago.

Bennett had argued that his client, a longtime government professional who has been married for 26 years, should be allowed to speak because Cain may have violated the agreement's confidentiality requirements by talking this week about settlements made to the women, and characterizing the terms of cash buyouts the women received.

The top official at the association, which Cain left in August 1999 before the end of his three-year term, said Cain did not sign the agreement with Bennett's client.

"Mr. Cain was not a party to that agreement," Dawn Sweeney, the association's current president and CEO, said in a statement. "The agreement contains mutual confidentiality obligations."

Sweeney added: "Notwithstanding the association's ongoing policy of maintaining the privacy of all personnel matters, we have advised Mr. Bennett that we are willing to waive the confidentiality of this matter and permit Mr. Bennett's client to comment."

"As indicated in Mr. Bennett's statement," Sweeney said, "his client prefers not to be further involved with this matter and we will respect her decision."

Answering reporters' questions after he read his client's statement, Bennett said Cain's characterization this week of the settlements with the women as "severance payments" was "inaccurate."

Severance payments, he said, are unrelated to conduct or performance.

"This was a settlement of an internal complaint of sexual harassment," Bennett said, adding that he would be "astounded" if the complaint had not been brought to Cain's attention.

Bennett also characterized as "meaningful" the fact that more than one woman has alleged harassment by Cain during his time at the association.

Cain has given evolving accounts about his knowledge of the complaints and settlements since the original Politico report last Sunday. But so far that does not seem have to hurt his standing in the polls.

The Politico report also led to a vigorous media pursuit of the women's identities, which is only expected to intensify after Friday's statement.

The developments came in the wake of an Associated Press report about a third anonymous accuser, who said she was also harassed by Cain while employed at the association. Additionally, a Republican pollster claimed to have witnessed inappropriate behavior by Cain toward a female subordinate during a late-1990s social event.

The pollster, Chris Wilson, did work for the association during Cain's tenure. He now works for one of Cain's opponents for the Republican nomination, Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Earlier, people who had direct knowledge of the case at the time it unfolded told NPRthat the alleged harassment was persistent, usually but not exclusively verbal, and involved sexually graphic comments and approaches when the women were alone with Cain work situations.

Those same sources have also told NPR 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, the sources say.

The two women, according to NPR's sources, were unaware of the other's claims at the time. Bennett's client reportedly received a $45,000 settlement, according to Politico. The second woman was paid a year's salary of $35,000, the New York Times has reported.

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.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Liz Halloran joined NPR in December 2008 as Washington correspondent for Digital News, taking her print journalism career into the online news world.