A former congressional staffer filed a lawsuit last week saying she was raped by an employee at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, and when she said she was taking legal action against the foundation, she was fired by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee.
The employee, who is suing as a Jane Doe plaintiff, is seeking at least $75,000 in damages for derailing her career and for emotional duress.
She says she was raped in 2015 by the coordinator of her intern program at the foundation, and says there was DNA, text messages and phone calls that proved the encounter happened.
When she decided to take legal action against the foundation in 2018, she told staffers for Ms. Jackson Lee, whose office she now worked in — and soon after she was fired for what the office said was “budgetary issues.”
She says, since the attack, she’s lost 50 pounds and has changed her appearance “to be less sexualized by men,” and refuses to be alone with men.
She’s had mental health treatments and, since her 2018 firing, she’s also lost wages and had her career derailed, she says in her lawsuit.
“Knowing that she was fired because she reported the rape in 2015 triggered her past symptoms, and forced her to again confront the traumatic event,” her lawsuit says.
Requests for comment to the foundation weren’t answered Wednesday.
Glenn Rushing, Ms. Jackson Lee’s chief of staff, denied the allegations.
“Our office had nothing to do with the actions cited. The lady was not wrongfully terminated,” he told The Washington Times.
The Times was not able to reach the person accused of the rape and is not yet printing his name.
The man worked last year as an employee on Beto O’Rourke’s Senate campaign.
The accusations come at a time of heightened sensitivities to the treatment of women on Capitol Hill.
Congress late last year passed new rules designed to give victims an easier path to make complaints, and to bring transparency to the settlements lawmakers reach with victims.
In the new lawsuit, filed Friday, the Jane Doe plaintiff says she was a 19-year-old student at Howard University when she joined the CBCF’s internship program and was placed in the office of an Alabama congresswoman.
She said she attended a mandatory CBCF intern event in October 2015 and her attacker, who was the intern program coordinator, asked her to dinner, then brought her to his home where, she says, she refused more alcohol. Her memory then becomes fuzzy “because of the large quantity of alcohol [the coordinator] had given her at the restaurant and/or because he drugged her at some point that night.”
She says she texted a friend to try to get help but her efforts were garbled, and at some point her attacker took her phone. She says at some point she realized she was naked and she was forced to perform oral sex.
She had a sexual assault exam performed at a hospital and reported the attack to the Metropolitan Police Department. She says they found the attacker’s DNA on her breast and another man’s DNA on her pants — which she speculates may have been the attacker’s roommate.
Michael Ellement, the Jane Doe plaintiff’s lawyer, told The Washington Times there was a police investigation, but he could not comment on the results. He said the woman’s suffering and losses far exceed the $75,000 named in the lawsuit, but that’s the minimum amount they needed to cite to bring the case in federal court.
The woman said she threatened to bring a lawsuit against the CBCF in October 2016, but didn’t pursue it.
Ms. Jackson Lee at the time was the vice chair of the foundation’s board of directors, and became chair in 2017. She remains the chair today.
The Jane Doe plaintiff says she won a job in Ms. Jackson Lee’s office in late 2017, where she learned the office was considering hiring her alleged attacker. She informed the chief of staff she had a “prior situation” and was uncomfortable with that possibility. She also told the office in 2018 that she planned to move ahead with her legal complaint against the CBCF.
Two weeks later, she was fired.
Among her duties during her time in the office was using her own car — without compensation — to drive the congresswoman, including at one point being forced to drive when her lights didn’t work.
She said she was urged to buy a new car, had a deal fall through — and then when she was being fired, was accused of lying about her car situation as part of the reason for her firing. She also said she was “routinely” used to do work for the foundation even though she was on the congresswoman’s official government staff.
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