WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A woman who accused Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain of sexual harassment suffered “very specific” instances of unwanted advances despite Cain’s denials, her lawyer said on Friday.
A statement from the woman, read to reporters by her lawyer, kept alive sexual harassment accusations that have dogged Cain even as he tries to put behind him a case that threatens to undermine his upstart campaign.
Cain’s problems have been at the center of attention in the race to choose a Republican nominee to face Democratic President Barack Obama in 2012, and come two months before the first state contests in the party’s presidential nominating process. At the same time, Obama has made gains in polls.
The unidentified woman, who worked for Cain at the National Restaurant Association in the mid-1990s, strongly rejected Cain’s insistence that he was falsely accused of sexual harassment, her lawyer Joel Bennett told reporters.
But she did not give specific details about the incidents, saying she preferred not to revisit them and expose herself and her husband of 26 years to a public airing of a painful period.
Cain, 65, has risen to the top of Republican polls. The former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza is running neck-and-neck with Mitt Romney atop the field of Republican candidates. An ABC News-Washington Post poll on Friday showed the sexual harassment issue has had little impact on Cain’s support so far.
The woman filed a formal complaint in 1999 to the National Restaurant Association about a series of “inappropriate behaviors and unwanted advances” by Cain, her lawyer said.
“It qualified as sexual harassment in our opinion,” Bennett said.
“My client filed a written complaint in 1999 against him (Cain) specifically and it had very specific incidents in it, and if he chooses to not remember or not acknowledge those, that’s his issue,” Bennett said.
The restaurant association on Friday said it waived a confidentiality clause in its 1999 settlement with the woman to allow her to tell her side of the story.
“Mr. Herman Cain disputed the allegations in the complaint,” said Dawn Sweeney, the association president. “The association and Mr. Bennett’s client subsequently entered into an agreement to resolve the matter, without any admission of liability.”
At least three women have accused Cain of sexual harassment from his time as the restaurant industry’s top lobbyist. Cain has given conflicting accounts of the cases this week under the news media microscope while insisting the claims were baseless and he was wrongfully accused.
“This is absolutely fabrication, man,” Cain told conservative talk radio host Sean Hannity on Thursday.
Cain appeared before conservative activists in Washington, the Americans for Prosperity group, and gave an energetic performance in outlining his conservative ideals.
Cain said nothing about the harassment case other than that “I’ve attracted a little bit of attention” in Washington this week.
Some activists at the Cain speech liked what they heard and were dismissive of the sexual harassment allegations.
“I imagine some of them are trumped up and some of them are misunderstandings,” said Diane Rowland of Houston.
Bennett said he fielded a phone call this week from another woman who said she had sustained harassment from Cain, but she decided not to pursue action.
“There’s an expression, ‘Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.’ The fact that there are multiple complaints tells me that it’s more likely than not that there was some sexual harassment activity by this man at that time.”
Additional reporting by Kim Dixon; Editing by Will Dunham