The National Restaurant Association on Friday confirmed that it granted a financial settlement to a woman after she filed a sexual harassment complaint against Herman Cain in 1999.
The trade group also freed her from her confidentiality agreement, although her attorney said she doesn’t intend to speak publicly on the matter.
“Notwithstanding the Association’s ongoing policy of maintaining the privacy of all personnel matters, we have advised [her attorney] that we are willing to waive the confidentiality of this matter and permit [Joel] Bennett’s client to comment,” Dawn Sweeney, president of the National Restaurant Association, said Friday in a news release.
Bennett, the attorney for the woman, on Thursday submitted a request to release her from the agreement.
The association announced its decision just as Bennett was telling reporters that the complaint against Cain involved “more than one incident” that, in the woman’s opinion, qualified as sexual harassment.
“My client stands by the complaint that she made,” he said.
Bennett declined to give additional details about the nature of the incidents, citing the woman’s desire to stay out of the spotlight. He did note that he believes Cain was no longer at the association when the woman’s complaint was settled. That means Cain was not a party to the confidentiality agreement and is not bound to follow it. He headed the trade group from 1996 to 1999.
Cain’s campaign responded with a short news release.
“We look forward to focusing our attention on the real issues affecting our country,” such as strengthening national security and reforming the tax code, Cain spokesman J.D. Gordon said in the release.
Gordon noted that at the time the woman filed her complaint, Cain “disputed the allegations.”
In the trade group’s news release, Sweeney said:
“Based upon the information currently available, we can confirm that more than a decade ago, in July 1999, Mr. Bennett’s client filed a formal internal complaint, in accordance with the Association’s existing policies prohibiting discrimination and harassment. Mr. Herman Cain disputed the allegations in the complaint. The Association and Mr. Bennett’s client subsequently entered into an agreement to resolve the matter, without any admission of liability. Mr. Cain was not a party to that agreement.”
The announcements late Friday raised more questions than they answered. Bennett’s request that the woman be released from her confidentiality obligation led many to believe she wanted to come forward and make public her accusations against the man who is leading the polls for the Republican presidential nomination.
Bennett explained to CNN: “Earlier in the week I used the phrase ‘waive the confidentiality,’ but I was using it in the sense of allowing us to make the kind of public statement we made today.”
In addition to Bennett’s client, another woman was reported to have received a financial settlement after accusing Cain of sexual harassment. It is unclear whether the other woman would be released from any confidentiality obligations included in her settlement.
In the week since reports of the allegations first emerged, Cain has denied ever sexually harassing anyone, describing an innocuous account of making a comment about an employee’s height that he said led to a frivolous complaint that was settled as a nuisance claim.
Bound by her confidentiality agreement, Bennett’s client was not allowed to respond to Cain’s denials. The group’s decision Friday freed her from that.
And with that agreement lifted, a few new details emerged Friday.
Her attorney confirmed that the accusations were handled internally by the Restaurant Association and not by any courts.
Bennett was also asked about Cain’s claim that the payment to Bennett’s client was a severance package and not a settlement. Bennett denied this claim, saying the payment was a settlement.
He also told CNN that he has been receiving hate mail and obscene phone calls throughout the week.
He hinted that there is more information out there, telling CNN: “One other person ... actually called me and left a voicemail saying she had worked at the National Restaurant Association and was sexually harassed by Mr. Cain. When I returned the call, she told me she had thought more about it and decided not to go public.”
As for Cain’s denials, Bennett said: “I cannot recall anybody who’s been accused of sexual harassment who said, ‘I did it.’ They always deny it — very simple.”
— This story was updated at 5:16 p.m.