Former staffer accuses Jackson Lee of retaliation after rape claim

Former staffer accuses Jackson Lee of retaliation after rape claim
© Stefani Reynolds

A former staffer for Rep. Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeeHouse to hold first hearing on slavery reparations in over a decade House to hold first hearing on slavery reparations in over a decade Democrats begin Mueller hearings with Watergate-era witness MORE (D-Texas) claims in a new lawsuit that Lee fired her in retaliation because the staffer was preparing to pursue legal claims over an alleged sexual assault by a former employee of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.

According to court filings, the staffer — identified only as "Jane Doe" — alleges that Damien Jones, a former intern coordinator for the foundation, raped her in October 2015 when she was a 19-year-old intern for the CBCF.

The staffer, in the filings, claims she reported the rape to police and told several others, including Rep. Terri SewellTerrycina (Terri) Andrea SewellCentrist Democrats raise concerns over minimum wage push Centrist Democrats raise concerns over minimum wage push On The Money: House to vote on minimum wage this summer | Sanders doubles down on democratic socialism | May deficit surges | Democrat puts hold on Treasury nominees in fight over Trump tax returns MORE (D-Al.), Jackson Lee and a relative of her mother's. The staffer said she did not pursue legal action at the time of the alleged assault. 

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Years later, according to the lawsuit, the woman decided she wanted to pursue legal action. She was working for Jackson Lee at the time and told the congresswoman's chief of staff, Glenn Rushing, in March 2018 of her plans, the filing states. 

The staffer alleges that she inquired about speaking with Jackson Lee — who is chairwoman of the board for the CBCF — about the matter, but was not granted a meeting. According to the filing, she was fired weeks later.

The filings were first reported by The Washington Times and BuzzFeed News.

Rushing told BuzzFeed News “We had nothing to do with any of the actions that have been cited and the person was not wrongfully terminated,” declining to answer further questions.

A spokesperson for the CBCF did not immediately return BuzzFeed's requests for comment. Lawyers for Jane Doe declined to comment to the outlet.

"The Office of Representative Sheila Jackson Lee and CBCF (for which Representative Jackson Lee serves as the Board Chair) unlawfully retaliated against Ms. Doe after Ms. Doe threatened to sue the CBCF because another CBCF employee (Damien Jones) raped Ms. Doe while he was Ms. Doe’s supervisor," the court filings read.

The lawsuit does not indicate that Jones faced criminal charges. BuzzFeed noted that there is no record of a criminal case against him in District of Columbia Superior Court. Jones did not respond to a request for comment from the outlet.

The lawsuit identifies Sewell as a distant relative of the unidentified woman's mother, and alleges that the congresswoman called the woman's mother to report the alleged rape after a brief conversation with Jane Doe. Sewell allegedly called Jane Doe's mother without her consent, the lawsuit states.

Jane Doe claims she met with representatives of the CBCF the month after the alleged rape. Members, according to the lawsuit, asked for the woman's communications with Jones and allegedly told her that Jones would be placed on leave immediately. BuzzFeed noted that, according to Jones's LinkedIn profile, he left the CBCF in December 2015.

Active in Texas politics, Jones most recently served as a regional political director for Rep. Beto O'RourkeBeto O'RourkeDemocrats' 2020 Achilles's heel: The Senate Democrats' 2020 Achilles's heel: The Senate Campaign dads fit fatherhood between presidential speeches MORE's (D-Texas) Senate campaign, which disavowed Jones in a statement to BuzzFeed on Wednesday.

"The Beto for Texas campaign was absolutely not aware of these allegations until today and no longer has a relationship with Damien Jones," a spokesman said.

The lawsuit includes claims against Jackson Lee, individually, and against the CBCF.

The Hill has reached out to Jackson Lee and Sewell for comment.

Updated at 10:10 a.m. on 1/17/19.