Herman Cain Says Sexual Harassment Charge: “Totally Baseless And Totally False”
During Herman Cain’s tenure as the head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s, at least two female employees complained to colleagues and senior association officials about inappropriate behavior by Cain, ultimately leaving their jobs at the trade group, multiple sources confirm to POLITICO. The women complained of sexually suggestive behavior by Cain that made them angry and uncomfortable, the sources said, and they signed agreements with the restaurant group that gave them financial payouts to leave the association. The agreements also included language that bars the women from talking about their departures. Cain and his campaign repeatedly declined to respond directly about whether he ever faced allegations of sexual harassment at the restaurant association. They have also declined to address questions about specific reporting confirming that there were financial settlements in two cases in which women leveled complaints.
POLITICO has confirmed the identities of the two female restaurant association employees who complained about Cain but, for privacy concerns, is not publishing their names. Cain spokesman J.D. Gordon told POLITICO the candidate indicated to campaign officials that he was “vaguely familiar” with the charges and that the restaurant association’s general counsel had resolved the matter. The latest statement came from Cain himself. In a tense sidewalk encounter Sunday morning outside the Washington bureau of CBS News — where the Republican contender had just completed an interview on “Face the Nation” — Cain evaded a series of questions about sexual harassment allegations. Cain said he has “had thousands of people working for me” at different businesses over the years and could not comment “until I see some facts or some concrete evidence.” His campaign staff was given the name of one woman who complained last week, and it was repeated to Cain on Sunday. He responded, “I am not going to comment on that.”
“I have never sexually harassed anyone, let’s say that. Secondly, I’ve never sexually harassed anyone, and yes, I was falsely accused while I was at the National Restaurant Association, and I say falsely, because it turned out, after the investigation, to be baseless. The people mentioned in that article were the ones who would be aware of any misdoings, and they have attested to my integrity and my character. It is totally baseless, and totally false, never have I committed any sort of sexual harassment,” Herman Cain told FOX News about claims from Politico that he was involved in the sexual harassment of two former
He was then asked, “Have you ever been accused, sir, in your life of harassment by a woman?” He breathed audibly, glared at the reporter and stayed silent for several seconds. After the question was repeated three times, he responded by asking the reporter, “Have you ever been accused of sexual harassment?”
Cain was president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association from late 1996 to mid-1999. POLITICO learned of the allegations against him, and over the course of several weeks, has put together accounts of what happened by talking to a lengthy roster of former board members, current and past staff and others familiar with the workings of the trade group at the time Cain was there.
In one case, POLITICO has seen documentation describing the allegations and showing that the restaurant association formally resolved the matter. Both women received separation packages that were in the five-figure range. On the details of Cain’s allegedly inappropriate behavior with the two women, POLITICO has a half-dozen sources shedding light on different aspects of the complaints.
The sources — including the recollections of close associates and other documentation — describe episodes that left the women upset and offended. These incidents include conversations allegedly filled with innuendo or personal questions of a sexually suggestive nature, taking place at hotels during conferences, at other officially sanctioned restaurant association events and at the association’s offices. There were also descriptions of physical gestures that were not overtly sexual but that made women who experienced or witnessed them uncomfortable and that they regarded as improper in a professional relationship. But one source closely familiar with Cain’s tenure in Washington confirmed that the claims related to allegations of sexual harassment — behavior that disturbed members of the board who became aware of it, as well as the source, who otherwise liked Cain.
“I happen to know there were sealed settlements reached in the plural. I think that anybody who thinks this was a one-time, one-person transgression would be mistaken,” this source said. The first woman was identified to POLITICO by a former association board member, and her identity was confirmed by two additional sources. The former board member recalled learning of the woman’s departure at a 1999 association board meeting and trade expo in Chicago. “She was offered a financial package to leave the association, and she did,” said the former board member. “What I took offense at was that it was clear that rather than deal with the issue, there was an effort to hush it up. She was offered a way out to keep quiet.”
A second source with close ties to the restaurant association from that period said the woman revealed at the time that she had suffered what the source described as “an unwanted sexual advance” from Cain at a hotel where an event involving the group was taking place.
A third source said the woman has indicated to her current employer that she received a compensation package from the association and has warned the employer that she might be the subject of an embarrassing story involving a presidential candidate.
The second woman’s identity was confirmed by a source familiar with the association.
After POLITICO published its reporting Sunday evening, the Cain campaign said in a statement that the “political trade press are now casting aspersions on his character and spreading rumors that never stood up to the facts,” but the campaign did not deny the details of the report. “Fearing the message of Herman Cain, who is shaking up the political landscape in Washington, Inside the Beltway media have begun to launch unsubstantiated personal attacks on Cain,” the campaign said in a statement. “Sadly, we’ve seen this movie played out before — a prominent Conservative targeted by liberals simply because they disagree with his politics.”
Cain, who has been married to his wife Gloria for 43 years, did tell at least one campaign staffer this year about the possibility that claims of sexual harassment could surface, according to the aide. Cain, this person said, described a case in which he fired an employee in 1990s and the woman alleged sexual misconduct or harassment. Cain told the campaign staffer he had won the case and that the woman had paid his legal fees. The aide had no further details. Cain was head of the restaurant trade group after he left as CEO of Godfather’s Pizza. He has often referred to his experience running the pizza company but speaks less often about his tenure atop the association. The year before he took the helm, the association represented about 150,000 food service establishments, had roughly 115 employees and a government affairs budget of nearly $20 million. But it was not known as a lobbying powerhouse. Cain tried to change that, hiring more lobbyists and taking a much more public role in advocating for the industry than his predecessor had. Boasting of the shift in his book, Cain noted that during his tenure, the restaurant association made its first appearance on Fortune magazine’s list of Washington’s 25 most influential interest groups (it rose as high as 15th).
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