A former employee of the National Restaurant Association on Monday said Herman Cain groped her 14 years ago during an unwanted sexual advance, becoming the fourth woman to accuse the presidential candidate of sexual misconduct and the first to publicly identify herself.
Cain angrily denied the charges, but called a news conference for Tuesday afternoon in Phoenix to address them -- a sign that he believes he needs to speak in more detail about the allegations to try to prevent further damage to his campaign.
Speaking at a press conference in New York City and flanked by celebrity attorney Gloria Allred, Sharon Bialek, a Chicago resident who worked for the NRA from 1996 to 1997, said Cain suddenly reached out and grabbed her after drinks and dinner in Washington D.C. in the summer of 1997. She had left her association job in Chicago, Bialek said, and had traveled to Washington to meet with Cain to ask him for help finding a new job. It was then, she alleged, Cain attempted to force her into a sexual favor in exchange for a job while the two were in a parked car.
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“I was very, very surprised and very shocked,” Bialek said, recounting in detail the aggressive sexual overture. She said she decided to come forward after three other women who worked for the trade group alleged that Cain sexually harassed them on the job. “Mr. Cain, I implore you. Make this right,” Bialek said.
Bialek is the fourth woman to accuse Cain of sexual misconduct, after reports surfaced last week that three subordinates claimed he sexually harassed them when he was the top executive of the NRA from 1996 to 1999. Those women have chosen to remain anonymous, and Bialek’s description is by far the most explicit accusation to date.
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As he has with the prior accusations, Cain on Monday denied any wrongdoing. In a statement, his campaign highlighted the involvement of Allred, an attorney who has represented many celebrities and supported feminist causes, and called the accusations a distraction.
“All allegations of harassment against Mr. Cain are completely false. Mr. Cain has never harassed anyone,” the statement said. “Fortunately the American people will not allow Mr. Cain’s bold 9-9-9 plan, clear foreign policy vision and plans for energy independence to be overshadowed by these bogus attacks.”
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After being introduced by Allred at a packed press conference, Bialek described her job as a manager with the NRA’s educational foundation, which provided help for high school students interested in restaurant careers. She met Cain at the trade group’s annual convention in Chicago, and chatted with him over the course of dinners and a luncheon, where he was seated next to her.
Bialek, a college graduate and today a single mother of a 13 year-old son, said that when she later lost her job at the foundation, she called Cain to see if he could help her find another position with the NRA or with another employer. She set up a meeting with him in Washington, where the trade group is headquartered.
On the evening she arrived, she had drinks and dinner with Cain, who also told her in the course of the evening that he had taken the liberty of upgrading her room at a Hilton hotel to a suite. After dinner, Cain offered to show Bialek the NRA’s headquarters, but on the way there, he pulled the car over and parked, she said.
“He reached over and he put his hand on my leg under my skirt and reached for my genitals,” Bialek said, her voice breaking with emotion. “He also grabbed my head and brought it towards his crotch. I was very, very surprised and very shocked. I said, ‘What are you doing? You know I have a boyfriend. This isn’t what I came here for.’”
She said that Cain responded, “You want a job, right?” Bialek said she asked him to stop, and Cain complied. She then asked to be driven back to her hotel, and she said Cain promptly complied with that request as well.
Bialek said she didn’t file a complaint against Cain at the time because she was no longer employed at the NRA. But she said she felt compelled to speak publicly “on behalf of all women who are sexually harassed in the workforce but do not come out because of retaliation or public humiliation.”
“I really didn’t want to be here today and wouldn’t have been here if it had not been for the three other women who have alleged sexual harassment against Mr. Cain,” she said, adding that she wanted Cain to “come clean.”
“Just admit what you did,” Bialek said. “Admit you were inappropriate to people. And then move forward.”
Politico first reported last week that the NRA had settled sexual harassment claims against Cain by two women in the 1990s. A third woman told the Associated Press last week that she considered filing a similar complaint. Cain has said the sexual harassment allegations are false. He and his surrogates have characterized them as “baseless,” and have blamed the liberal media for drumming up negative stories about him and his Republican rivals for conducting a “smear” campaign.
More than half of Republican primary voters are unconcerned by the accusations against Cain, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released on Monday. Still, his likability has taken a hit, with 35 percent of those polled saying they have somewhat or very negative feelings toward Cain, up from 18 percent last month.
The development also will make it difficult for Cain to continue a strategy, launched over the weekend, of refusing to discuss multiplying sexual harassment cases. “We are getting back on message, end of story,” he told reporters brusquely on Saturday at a tea party-sponsored event. Asked by a reporter whether he was going to refuse all questions going forward, Cain grinned and said, “You got it.”
On Friday, one of the women who filed a complaint against Claim said through her attorney that she stands by her allegations. Her lawyer, Joel Bennett, said the woman, who worked in the trade group’s media division, was the victim of “a series of inappropriate behaviors and unwanted advances” by Cain.
The woman settled the dispute with the NRA a dozen years ago in exchange for a cash payout and an agreement not to publicly discuss her claims. The association confirmed that a formal internal complaint had been filed against Cain, that Cain “disputed the allegations,” and that the association and the woman resolved it “without any admission of liability.” The NRA also said that Cain “was not a party to that agreement.”
Both of the women who lodged complaints received financial settlements, one for reportedly $35,000 and one for $45,000.
n a subsequent interview on CNN, Bialek said she has no intention of filing any charges against Cain. She said she was motivated by the stories of other women who have not publicly come forward, and that she is prepared for the backlash of criticism of her motives.
"I'm all about doing the right thing, about justice being served," she said. "And I wanted to do this because those that know me know I don't back down from controversy and things. And I felt I needed to do this for the other women that couldn't or wouldn't. And regardless of what happens -- and I know, you're right, there's going to be a lot of backlash, and I'm going to have to suffer through that. And I'm sure I'm not going to be portrayed at different things. So I'm willing to handle it. I'm a tough girl."