Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Alleged rape victim sues U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee for retaliation, Rep. Lee loses House Criminal Justice Subcommittee Chairmanship. (Houston Chronicle/New York Times)

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee was elected our Congresswoman from Houston in 1994, and I reckon I voted for her.

Rep. Lee is being sued now by a "Jane Doe" client represented by my fellow Government Accountability Project alum, Washington,D.C. lawyer Lynne Bernabei for discrimination under the Congressional Accountability Act, tort law and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act.

Rep. Lee has stepped down from her committee posts and Congressional Black Caucus Foundation positions, pending the litigation.  Will Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee end up resigning from Congress?

Members of Congress and our state legislatures too often perpetrate and tolerate abuses of power.

Read the lawsuit against Rep. Lee here,

Read my back page editorial column  in today's Folio Weekly about the Florida Senate's $1.4 million coverup of sexual assault allegations here.

From Houston Chronicle:

Sheila Jackson Lee steps down from key posts amid ex-aide's retribution claim in sex assault case

By Kevin Diaz
Updated 1:38 pm CST, Wednesday, January 23, 2019
Houston Chronicle

WASHINGTON – Houston Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee, under fire from a former aide's lawsuit alleging she was fired in connection with a sexual assault complaint, said Wednesday that she will step down as chairwoman of a key House Judiciary subcommittee on criminal justice.
Jackson Lee, in her 13th term, also resigned as chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, a post that helped raise her national profile.
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The lawsuit, filed by a woman who worked in Jackson Lee's office from November 2017 to March 2018, claimed that she was dismissed after notifying the congresswoman's chief of staff that she planned to pursue a sexual assault case against a foundation supervisor. She is identified in court records only as "Jane Doe" who worked as a special assistant and director of public engagement.
Jackson Lee issued a statement Wednesday "adamantly" denying the woman's allegation and recounting her record of advancing civil rights and non-discrimination legislation, including a law that applies to Congress.
She also has been a key voice in the push to extend the historic 1994 Violence Against Women Act.
"While we still deny the allegations, we are especially concerned about Ms. Doe and only want the best for her and the many, many young people that the Congressional office has supported, encouraged and provided opportunities for over 20 years," she said in the statement.
"The congresswoman is confident that, once all of the facts come to light, her office will be exonerated of any retaliatory or otherwise improper conduct and this matter will be put to rest," the statement said.
Nevertheless, the loss of a leading role on the criminal justice subcommittee was a setback for Jackson Lee, who would have been the first black woman in a post overseeing an important issue in the African American community.
Related: Ex-Sheila Jackson Lee staffer says she was fired in retaliation for planned sex assault suit
Pressure had been building on her since the lawsuit was filed January 11 laying out the former aide's claims. Jackson Lee becomes the latest member of Congress to be ensnared in #MeToo era allegations of sexual impropriety.
The lawsuit stems back to October 2015, when the woman, then a 19-year-old Howard University intern at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, alleges that a 30-year-old male supervisor she was drinking and socializing with took her to his apartment and forced her to have sex.
According to her complaint filed in a federal court in Washington, the woman did not bring legal action at the time and police did not bring charges.
The woman was hired by Jackson Lee's office two years later after she graduated from Howard. The earlier incident involving the foundation supervisor, identified as Damien Jones, did not come to light until Jones also was being considered for a job in Jackson Lee's office.
The woman then reportedly told Jackson Lee's chief of staff, Glenn Rushing, about the "prior situation." Jones was not hired.
But the woman said she subsequently learned about a text message sent to Jackson Lee from A. Shuanise Washington, the foundation's chief executive, offering "background" on the woman.
The woman said she tied the text to her assault and told Rushing that she would take legal action against the foundation. She also said she wanted to speak to Jackson Lee personally. Instead, she said, she was fired.
Her lawsuit names both Jackson Lee and the foundation, which has released a statement promising to cooperate with an investigation of the woman's claims.
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The foundation, which includes high-profile corporate executives and members of Congress, also has denied having any influence over Jackson Lee's decision to fire the woman. The group reportedly pressed Jackson Lee to step down from her post.
While Jackson Lee battles the woman's allegations, it became clear Wednesday that the case was costing her support among key allies, including the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, which announced that the group could no longer "support her continued lead sponsorship" of the Violence Against Women Act.
This story will be updated as more details are uncovered.


From The New York Times:

Sheila Jackson Lee Leaves 2 Posts After Aide Says She Was Fired for Reporting Sexual Assault

Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, Democrat of Texas, resigned as the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.CreditGabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, Democrat of Texas, resigned as the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.CreditCreditGabriella Demczuk for The New York Times
WASHINGTON — Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, facing fallout from a lawsuit claiming she fired an aide who said she was sexually assaulted by a supervisor at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, said on Wednesday she had decided to resign as the foundation’s chairwoman.
Ms. Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat in her 13th term, also stepped aside temporarily from an important House Judiciary subcommittee chairmanship, the committee said.
Ms. Jackson Lee made the decision to step aside from both roles as pressure was growing within her own party to account for the claims in a Jan. 11 lawsuit brought by a woman who worked in her congressional office and who said she was sexually assaulted by a Black Caucus Foundation supervisor. Ms. Jackson Lee has adamantly denied that she fired the woman for retribution after the woman indicated she wanted to pursue legal action, but she planned to say Wednesday that she would step aside nonetheless.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s board had given Ms. Jackson Lee an ultimatum late last week after the claims became public: step down as chairwoman or face a vote of removal as soon as this week, according to an official familiar with the conversations who was not authorized to discuss them.

Other liberal advocacy groups are asking the congresswoman to step aside from leadership positions as the case unfolds. The National Alliance to End Sexual Violence said it could not continue to work with Ms. Jackson Lee as the lead sponsor of legislation reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. And fellow Democratic lawmakers had been prepared to try to force her from her chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee’s crime, terrorism, homeland security and investigations subcommittee.
The woman, who worked for Ms. Jackson Lee from November 2017 to March 2018 and identified only as Jane Doe in the complaint, said that she was fired from her job as a special assistant and director of public engagement as retaliation after she told Ms. Jackson Lee’s chief of staff that she planned to pursue legal action against the foundation, which the congresswoman then chaired. Lynne Bernabei, a lawyer for the woman, said that the woman wished to remain anonymous to limit fallout from the case.
In a statement, Ms. Jackson Lee’s office highlighted her long record supporting workplace safety and nondiscrimination laws, including a measure applying those standards to Congress. Citing the legal proceedings, her office said it could not discuss specific details of the case but asserted that she would be cleared of any wrongdoing.
“The congresswoman is confident that, once all of the facts come to light, her office will be exonerated of any retaliatory or otherwise improper conduct and this matter will be put to rest,” the statement said.
Ms. Jackson Lee is only the latest lawmaker affected by sexual impropriety cases since the #MeToo movement reached Capitol Hill. Among those accused directly of sexual misconduct are Senator Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, and Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, one of the longest serving Democrats in the House, who were forced to step down last Congress. So did Republican Representatives Trent Franks of Arizona, Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania, Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania, Joe Barton of Texas and Blake Farenthold of Texas.

But Ms. Jackson Lee’s case most resembles that of Representative Elizabeth Esty, a Connecticut Democrat who did not seek re-election last year over what she called her failure to protect women on her staff from sexual harassment and threats of violence from her former chief of staff.
As laid out in the complaint, the case dates to October 2015, when the woman, then 19 and a student at Howard University in Washington, spent the fall semester as an intern at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, an influential nonprofit linked to the Congressional Black Caucus that promotes African-American career advancement through internships, seminars and policy research. She says that the internship coordinator took her out drinking one night and then back to his apartment where he forced her to perform oral sex and other unwanted sexual acts. The woman could not remember parts of what occurred during the encounter, the filing says.
The woman spoke with the internship coordinator the next day, who denied they had sex. When she met with representatives of the foundation, they placed him on leave. A foundation official, speaking under the condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing legal case, said the foundation fired him after the 2015 incident for drinking with a minor. The internship coordinator denied to the foundation that he had any inappropriate sexual contact with the woman.
The woman initially pursued legal action, but did not bring a lawsuit at the time, and police did not bring charges, according to the complaint.
About two years later, after she graduated from Howard, the woman was hired by Ms. Jackson Lee’s office, where she helped manage the congresswoman’s communications and drove her around the capital, among other duties. When it appeared that Ms. Jackson Lee might hire the former internship coordinator to work in the office, the woman told her chief of staff, Glenn Rushing, that she had a “prior situation” with the prospective colleague, the complaint says. Mr. Rushing indicated he would not be hired.
A short time later, the woman saw a text message to Ms. Jackson Lee from A. Shuanise Washington, the foundation’s chief executive, saying that she had learned of the woman’s position with the congresswoman and had some “background on her” to share with the congresswoman, the complaint says. The woman saw the text messages as a “clear reference” to the earlier claims she had made to the foundation.
In March 2018, the woman told Mr. Rushing that she planned to resume legal action against the foundation and asked to speak with Ms. Jackson Lee about it. The meeting never took place, and the woman claims Ms. Jackson Lee refused a personal request to speak. Two weeks later, she was fired.

Mr. Rushing told the woman it was because of budgetary constraints, but she asserts in the complaint that Ms. Jackson Lee was conspiring with the foundation to retaliate after speaking with Ms. Washington, the foundation chief executive, about what had transpired at the foundation. She claims the firing has caused emotional, financial and career damage.
But the foundation official said that Ms. Washington, who has since left her position there for unrelated reasons, denied asking for the woman to be fired or punished. On the contrary, the official said, she reached out by text with the intention of simply telling Ms. Jackson Lee that her employee was a former Congressional Black Caucus Foundation intern. The two never actually spoke, the official said.
Ms. Bernabei, the woman’s lawyer, defended her client: “The justifications they have provided along the way, they are not credible, and they are shifting,” Ms. Bernabei said in an interview.
In a statement, the foundation pledged to cooperate fully with an investigation of the claims.
“We are deeply concerned about the welfare of all our interns and fellows, including ‘Jane Doe,’ the former C.B.C.F. intern who recently filed suit,” said C.J. Epps, a spokesman. “It is C.B.C.F.’s position that the foundation did not have the purview to terminate Ms. Doe from a staff position in a congressional office, and therefore, did not take such action nor recommend or influence said decision.”
Still, the foundation’s board, which counts several high-profile corporate executives and members of Congress among its members, began moving last week to remove Ms. Jackson Lee, as first reported by Politico. Ultimately, the members decided to try to afford her a graceful exit and warned her late last week that if she did not step down, they would be forced to vote to remove her.
On Capitol Hill, the Congressional Black Caucus was scheduled to hold a regular meeting on Wednesday, when the case might be discussed.
When the Judiciary Committee met Wednesday morning to vote on subcommittee chairmanships and make other organizational decisions, Ms. Jackson Lee preemptively offered up an arrangement to relinquish the chairmanship she was in line for while the case proceeds, Democrats in the room said. Representative Karen Bass, Democrat of California and the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, will fill the subcommittee slot in the meantime.

The statement from the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence portends other potential difficulties for Ms. Jackson Lee, who has long counted the support of women’s rights and other liberal activists.
Ebony Tucker, a spokeswoman for the group, said Ms. Jackson Lee has been “a strong ally” but that the group could not “support her continued lead sponsorship” of the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization.
“We begin and end all of our work with supporting survivors and support Jane Doe and many others who have been unsupported in their attempts to speak out,” Ms. Tucker said in a statement.

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