Woman claims Cain groped her, he calls allegation 'completely false'

A former employee of a foundation tied to the National Restaurant Association accused presidential hopeful Herman Cain of inappropriate sexual advances in July of 1997.

Sharon Bialek, who worked for the group's education foundation in Chicago between 1996 and 1997, made the allegations during a press conference with celebrity attorney Gloria Allred Monday afternoon.
She is the fourth woman to allege sexually inappropriate behavior by Cain, the former head of the restaurant trade group, but the first to speak publicly. The Cain campaign immediately denied her claims.

Bialek said that after being let go by the organization, she contacted Cain — whom she had met previously at association events — for help in finding a new job. Bialek alleges that Cain agreed to meet her in Washington, where the restaurant association is headquartered.

According to Bialek's account, she arranged to meet Cain at the bar of the Capitol Hilton, where she told the former Godfather's Pizza CEO she would be staying. Upon checking into the hotel, she said she was "shocked" to discover that she had been given a "palatial suite."

Bialek said that when she met Cain later, he said he had arranged for the room.

"Mr. Cain kind of smirked and said, 'I upgraded you,' " Bialek alleged at Monday's press conference.

Bialek says that after drinks, the pair ate dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant and then Cain offered to show her the association's offices.

After parking a block from the building, Cain allegedly attempted to grope Bialek, she said.

"Instead of going into the offices, he suddenly reached over and put his hand on my leg, up my skirt, and towards my genitals," Bialek said. "He also grabbed my head and brought it toward his crotch. I was very, very surprised and very shocked."

Bialek said that she refused the advances, reminding Cain that she had a boyfriend whom he had met.

But according to Bialek, Cain responded, "You want a job, right?"

Bialek said she again declined the advances and asked Cain to take her back to her hotel, which he did.

She also discussed Monday why she chose to speak publicly.

"I'm coming forward to give a face and a voice to those women who cannot or do not come forward," she said in reference to the previous allegations. "I want you, Mr. Cain, to come clean, just admit what you did. Admit you were inappropriate to people, and then move forward."

The Cain campaign immediately denied her allegations, saying they are "completely false."

"All allegations of harassment against Mr. Cain are completely false. Mr. Cain has never harassed anyone," said Cain spokesman J.D. Gordon in a press release.

Cain's campaign also denounced Allred's involvement in the case. The attorney has famously represented women connected to sex scandals involving former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) and Tiger Woods.

"Just as the country finally begins to refocus on our crippling $15 trillion national debt and the unacceptably high unemployment rate, now activist celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred is bringing forth more false accusations against the character of Republican front-runner Herman Cain," Gordon said.

Allred and Bialek have a series of interviews already scheduled for Monday evening and Tuesday morning, including appearances with CNN's Piers Morgan Monday night and at least two morning shows Tuesday.

Cain, meanwhile, plans to speak at a conference for business executives in San Francisco later Monday. But Cain will not likely field questions on the new allegations until an interview on ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live," scheduled to tape Monday evening.

So far, Cain has not suffered in the polls since the first allegations were reported last Sunday. In polling taken since then, he remains at or near the top of the race for the Republican presidential nomination. But a Pew poll released Monday said that 39 percent believed that the Cain allegations were true, while just 24 percent thought they were false.

But a USA Today/Gallup poll, taken after the allegations were made public, showed Cain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney tied at 21 percent.

Later Monday, Cain circulated excerpts from his weekly column to supporters in which he denounced the media for their role in the story and defended his actions.

"I had thousands of employees working for me," Cain wrote. "I can’t even begin to recall how many conversations I had with people during that time, how many directives I gave, how much friendly banter might have taken place."

Allred strongly denounced Cain during the press conference, sarcastically saying Cain "decided to provide [Bialek] with his idea of a stimulus package" when she came to him for help after losing her job.

"I, for one, am disgusted at Mr. Cain's serial sexual harassment of women," Allred said. "Mr. Cain is actively lying to Americans, showing disdain for our common sense and intellect."

Allred also emphasized that she did not believe Bialek was motivated by anything other than a sense of justice, repeatedly mentioning that her client did not intend to file a lawsuit and was, in fact, a registered Republican who had attended Tea Party events.

She also said Bialek was not coming forward for payment, and had not previously filed a harassment claim because she was no longer working for the association when the alleged incident occurred.

In fact, Bialek said that the last time she saw Cain was at a Tea Party event about a month ago in Chicago.

"I went up to him and asked him, 'Do you remember me?' " Bialek said. "I guess I wanted to see if he would man up to what he had done 14 years ago ... he said nothing as he was whisked away by his handlers."

Joel Bennett, the attorney for one of the women who received a settlement from the restaurant association after reporting sexual harassment by Cain, said that Bialek's story was similar to that of his client. That accuser has elected to stay anonymous, but Bennett released a statement Friday saying she stood by her reports of harassment.

“It corroborates the claim,” Bennett told The New York Times. "I can’t get more specific," Bennet said, but “I can say it is corroborating.”

He later responded to Cain's denials on CNN's “Situation Room.”

"In almost 40 years of being a lawyer, I cannot recall anyone who has been accused of sexual harassment who said, "I did it," Bennett said.

Ellen Carmichael, Cain's former communications director who left the campaign after a surprise win in the Florida straw poll, said the allegations were upsetting.

"I didn't know how much this would upset me," Carmichael tweeted Monday. "Whatever the outcome, I am so appreciative of the kindness Herman showed me in my life."

Other conservatives rallied behind Cain. Rush Limbaugh referred to Bialek as "a blonde bombshell" and a "babe" while defending Cain. He also joked that Bialek's last name should be pronounced "buy-a-lick."

Conservative commentator Michelle Malkin questioned Bialek's motives.

"So Bialek is single with a teenage child, with no discernible means of income, and employing a top Democrat hit woman celebrity attorney and her employment law partner," Malkin wrote.

But Allred denounced those critics, and those who had questioned whether Bialek may have been "coming on" to Cain before the alleged harassment.

"Did she come on to him? Absolutely not," Allard said during an interview with CNN. "She indicated to him, 'You know I have a boyfriend."

Allred also said her client had no plans to proceed with any legal action.

"This is now in the court of public opinion. I find Sharon to be a very sincere, very credible person," Allred said.

—This story was originally posted at 2:36 p.m. and last updated at 6:24 p.m.