WASHINGTON — The National Restaurant Association gave $35,000 — a year’s salary — in severance pay to one female staff member who accused GOP presidential contender Herman Cain of making her uncomfortable working there, three people with direct knowledge of the payment told The New York Times.
The woman was one of two whose accusations of sexual harassment by Cain led to paid severance agreements during his 1996-99 tenure as the association’s chief. Disclosure of the cases has rocked Cain’s campaign just as he was surging in polls.
A lawyer for the second woman called on the restaurant association to release her from a confidentiality agreement signed as part of her settlement, raising the prospect that she could publicly dispute Cain’s account of what happened, the Times reported.
“He’s basically saying: ‘I never harassed anyone. These claims have no merit,’ ” said the lawyer, Joel P. Bennett of Washington, who represented the woman in her initial agreement. “And I’m sure my client would have a comeback to that.”
Cain has said over the past two days that he joked with one of the women about her height, but he has not addressed what happened with the first woman — the one who received the $35,000 payment, according to the people who knew of it — or even acknowledged there was an incident with her.
Four people with contemporaneous knowledge of the incident told the Times that it had taken place in the context of a work outing during which there was heavy drinking, a hallmark, they said, of outings with an organization that represents the hospitality industry.
Two of them said that other factors had been involved in her severance, and that other, less-loaded issues had been making her unhappy at the association. But they said the encounter with Cain had added an emotional charge, and contributed to the size of her payment.
The situation with the other woman appeared to be more in keeping with a standard settlement related to harassment allegations, though she never filed suit in a case that, one person familiar with her accusations said, included “more than one” alleged incident that made her feel uncomfortable.
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