Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee to step down as CBC Foundation chair amid lawsuit

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee to step down as CBC Foundation chair amid lawsuit
© Greg Nash

Rep. Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeeDems probe DOJ's handling of civil rights violations by law enforcement Reparations: The 'lost cause' of black politics? Dem lawmaker says Trump 'has in many respects become a dictator' MORE (D-Texas) is stepping down from her role as the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation board amid a lawsuit from a former staffer, The Hill confirmed Wednesday.

The ex-staffer accused Jackson Lee of improperly firing her as retaliation over claims she was sexually assaulted by a supervisor at the foundation years earlier.

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Jackson Lee will also temporarily step down from her chairmanship on the House Judiciary Committee’s crime, terrorism, homeland security and investigations subcommittee.

An anonymous Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF) official told The New York Times, which first reported the lawmaker's departure, that the group’s board told Jackson Lee that they could vote to remove her if she did not step down voluntarily.

A congressional source familiar with the matter confirmed to The Hill that after news of the lawsuit came out, she began to face growing "pressure," both inside and outside of the CBC. In the case of the House Judiciary Committee, she ultimately chose to step aside until a ruling on the case is wrapped up.

Jackson Lee declined to comment to The Hill when asked about the case Wednesday, saying that her office planned to release a statement later on in the day. Her office later said they were no longer planning to release a statement, and pointed to an earlier statement from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerDemocrats are running out of stunts to pull from impeachment playbook Trump asks if Nadler will look into Clinton's 'deleted and acid washed' emails Trump tweets conservative commentator's criticism of FBI director MORE (D-N.Y.).

Nadler said in the statement that he supports Jackson Lee's decision to temporarily step down from the subcommittee chair position, and confirmed that Rep. Karen BassKaren Ruth BassMueller mystery: Will he ever testify to Congress? Dems probe DOJ's handling of civil rights violations by law enforcement The Hill's Morning Report - Barr held in contempt after Trump invokes executive privilege, angering Dems MORE (D-Calif.) would serve as the board's interim chair.

"Representative Sheila Jackson Lee has built a strong legacy of service on the Judiciary Committee and in Congress," he said, adding that the decision "does not suggest any culpability by Representative Jackson Lee."

Rep. Hank JohnsonHenry (Hank) C. JohnsonLive coverage: House panel moves forward with Barr contempt vote LGBT lawmakers say nation is ready for gay president Tlaib: Colleagues feeding 'fear mongering' in questioning of Muslim-American father of slain children MORE (D-Ga.) told The Hill that he believes the report to be accurate and called Jackson Lee’s decision to step down a “wise move.”

“I think it’s very honorable for her to step down and allow these allegations to be dealt with so that the foundation will be able to proceed without the harsh glare of publicity just based on the allegations of the complaint,” he said.

Johnson also urged people not to “jump to conclusions” based on the lawsuit, and said that he thinks Jackson Lee “deserves the benefit of the doubt” while the legal action plays out.

Rep. Marcia FudgeMarcia Louise FudgeHouse Administration Committee to make election security a 'primary focus' Dems rally behind Omar as Trump escalates attacks Congressional Black Caucus faces tough decision on Harris, Booker MORE (D-Ohio), a former chairwoman of the CBC, said that if the report is true, Jackson Lee would be right to step down from her position.

And House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said in a statement that he supports Jackson Lee's decision to temporarily step down from the subcommittee chair position, and confirmed that Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) would serve as interim chair.

"Representative Sheila Jackson Lee has built a strong legacy of service on the Judiciary Committee and in Congress," he said, adding that the decision "does not suggest any culpability by Representative Jackson Lee."

In the lawsuit, filed earlier this month, the staffer (“Jane Doe” in the claim) alleges that she was raped in October 2015 by Damien Jones, a former intern coordinator for the foundation. She did not pursue legal action at the time, but decided to do so last year while working in Jackson Lee’s congressional office.

Jane Doe claims that she was fired after telling Jackson Lee’s chief of staff of her plans to take legal action against the CBCF. She claims that she asked for a meeting with Jackson Lee to discuss her plan, but says she was not granted a meeting and was fired weeks later.

Jackson Lee’s chief of staff said at the time: “We had nothing to do with any of the actions that have been cited and the person was not wrongfully terminated.”

“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 lawmaker’s office said in a statement, according to the Times.

— Updated 7:35 p.m.