As sexual harassment allegations swirl, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain has received much media scrutiny in recent days. Stories have appeared in the press about settlements with two women who accused him of sexual harassment when he headed the National Restaurant Association in the late 1990’s. That number very recently increased to three. Few definitive details of the two cases are available since the identities of the two women remain confidential and Cain’s own accounts of the events have been criticized less than consistent, even in the eyes of some of his supporters.
In an article entitled, Cain Accuser Got a Year’s Salary in Severance Pay, the New York Times reported that one of the alleged sexual harassment victims received a payment of $35,000, equal to one year’s salary, in severance when she left her employment with the National Restaurant Association. She left after Cain allegedly engaged in conduct that made her uncomfortable on a work outing with heavy drinking, which is said to be a common feature of hospitality industry events. People with knowledge of the situation confirmed the payment and its amount for New York Times reporters, with one person stating that the high amount of the woman’s severance was unusual given her pay grade and short tenure.
A second accuser also received a payment related to multiple claims of harassing behavior by Cain, but few details of her case have come to light. People who have commented to the media have requested anonymity, in part to protect the accusers’ privacy. Cain has offered various explanations for the two cases and has been criticized for being evasive. He told a Fox News host that the payments were for “agreements” and not “settlements.” This statement prompted conservative host Charles Krauthammer to suggest that Cain’s answer was “Clintonian,” referring to former President Bill Clinton’s tendency to split hairs about the meanings of words during the Lewinsky scandal of the late 1990’s.
The Cain sexual harassment scandal brings to light the mechanics involved in a settlement or severance agreement. Whether the document is described as severance or a settlement is typically insignificant. Regardless of its title, an agreement in this context is simply a binding contract between two or more parties. In this particular case, the alleged sexual harassment victims received payment in exchange for the legal promise not to sue the National Restaurant Association and Cain for sexual harassment. It is not uncommon for such agreements to contain additional terms such as, for instance, confidentiality and mutual non-disparagement, in which all parties agree not to speak negatively about each other.
Assuming that Cain agreed to the latter as part of the agreement, his characterization of the sexual harassment allegations as a “a witch hunt” and contention that he was falsely accused may run afoul of any existing non-disparagement obligations. Not surprisingly, Cain’s public commentary has led one victim’s attorney to request that the confidentiality requirements of the settlement agreement be lifted so that his client may defend herself.
According to this article by the Huffington Post, sexual harassment in the restaurant business occurs a disproportionately higher rate:
According to the MSNBC research 26 of the 75 (37% ) sexual harassment suits reported by the federal government so far this year took place in restaurants. Considering that less than 9% of American workers are employed by restaurants, this is a dramatically outsized percentage. And it’s not as if this year is some kind of aberration; the MSNBC piece cited a poll from Louisiana showing that 42% of female restaurant workers had experienced sexual harassment at some point in their careers.
Sexual harassment in the workplace violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Act (M.G.L. c. 151B). Both state and federal law recognize two types of sexual harassment: quid pro quo and hostile work environment. Please visit our Sexual Harassment page here to learn more about the different forms of sexual harassment.
The Boston sexual harassment attorneys at The Law Office of Alan H. Crede, P.C. represent the rights of employees who have suffered sexual harassment. To schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case, contact the firm through their website or at (617)973-6434.
More Sexual Harassment Blog Posts Blog Posts by The Law Office of Alan H. Crede, P.C.:
Sexual Harassment Claims in Federal Court: Overcoming the Farragher/Ellerth Defense, Boston Employment Lawyer Blog (October 5, 2008)
Sexual Harassment and Race Discrimination Claims Against Tavern on the Green Settled for $2.2 million, Boston Employment Lawyer Blog (June 8, 2008)
Sexual Harassment Victory Before the 11th Circuit Provides Greater Protection for Employees, Boston Employment Lawyer Blog (May 6, 2008)