Anti-President Donald Trump Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee has had to leave two of her positions because she has been accused of firing an aide for reporting sexual assault.
The woman said she was assaulted by someone in the Congressional Black Caucus and Jackson Lee axed her, she said, The New York Times reported.
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 the 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.