Texas Representative Sheila Jackson Lee has announced she will resign as the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation in the wake of mounting criticism over a lawsuit filed by a former aide, in which the aide claims Jackson Lee fired her after she alleged she had been sexually assaulted by a former staff member of the foundation. Jackson Lee, a Democrat representing a district that includes much of Houston, also plans on temporarily vacating her position as head of a House Judiciary subcommittee.
Jackson Lee has struggled to deal with the fallout from the lawsuit, and had earlier resisted calls from the board of the foundation to step down. Per the New York Times:
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 unnamed woman who filed the lawsuit, listed as Jane Doe, alleges that while she was an intern at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation in 2015, her supervisor Damien Jones raped her one night after they went out drinking. At the time, she was 19 years old. Jones denied her allegations; he was placed on leave, and then was ultimately fired by the foundation for drinking with a minor. According to the complaint, she reported the rape to the police, who did not press charges, and did not file a lawsuit at the time.
When the woman began working for Jackson Lee’s office, she heard that Jones might be hired as well, and informed the representative’s chief of staff that she had a “prior situation” with Jones.
This is what the woman claims happened next, per the Times:
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.
In a statement to Buzzfeed provided after the outlet first wrote about the allegations, Jackson Lee’s office denied retaliating against the former aide. “Although the Congresswoman is eager to respond substantively, she will do so only at the appropriate time, as the court docket dictates. 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. 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.”
Meanwhile, Lynne Bernabei, the woman’s attorney, disparaged the accounts from foundation officials as well as Jackson Lee’s office. “The justifications they have provided along the way, they are not credible, and they are shifting,” she told the Times.