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Texas Congresswoman fires back after ex-staffer claims retaliation

AUSTIN (KXAN) -- Texas Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee is firing back after a lawsuit accuses her of firing a staffer who planned to sue the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation over allegations of sexual assault. 

Civil suit

An employment discrimination lawsuit filed Jan. 11 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia names the Office of Representative Sheila Jackson Lee and the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation as plaintiffs and asks for $75,000 in punitive damages. 

The woman, going by the pseudonym Jane Doe in the lawsuit, claimed that in October 2015, she was an intern at CBCF when she was sexually assaulted by the intern coordinator at the time, Damien Jones. 

As part of her internship, Doe was assigned to Rep. Terri Sewell's team and she told Rep. Sewell's Chief-of-Staff about the assault. In November, the lawsuit alleges CBCF officials met with Doe and assured her Jones had been put on leave. 

In April 2017, Rep. Jackson Lee was appointed as Chair of the Board of Directors of CBCF and in the fall of that year, Doe was hired as Rep. Jackson Lee's Special Assistant. 

Doe says she often worked on behalf of Rep. Jackson Lee for the CBCF and when she found out Jones had applied for a job on Rep. Jackson Lee's team, she informed her Chief-of-Staff Glenn Rushing that she had a "prior situation," with Jones. 

In her lawsuit, Doe claims Rushing told Rep. Jackson Lee about Doe's allegations of sexual assault and her intent to pursue legal action against CBCF. Doe also says officials at CBCF knew she worked for Rep. Jackson Lee and told Lee about Doe's intentions to sue the organization so that Rep. Jackson Lee would retaliate against Doe and dissuade legal action. 

Alleged assault

In 2015, Doe was a 19-year-old college student studying political science at Howard University. She got an internship at CBCF. Jones, 30, was the intern coordinator for the organization and one day, got her alone after work and invited her to dinner, according to the lawsuit. 

Jones then allegedly bought her alcohol, according to the lawsuit. While intoxicated, Doe says Jones sexually assaulted her. She couldn't remember much the next morning but when she questioned him in a recorded phone call, he told her nothing happened. She had also texted a friend that night saying she didn't want to be there, according to the lawsuit.

She went to a hospital and a nurse performed a sexual assault exam and swabbed her body for DNA. The lawsuit claims profiles of Jones and another unidentified man were found on swabs from different parts of Doe's body. She also had swelling on parts of her body and broken fingernails. 

Response

After the lawsuit came to light, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee's Office issued a statement to KXAN media partner, the Texas Tribune, firing back against the allegations.

The statement reads: 

The Office adamantly denies the allegations that it retaliated against, or otherwise improperly treated the plaintiff. It is against office policy to discuss specific details about internal personnel matters. 

Congresswoman Jackson Lee has an outstanding record of supporting civil rights and non-discrimination, both in legislation and in her own office. In fact, when Congresswoman Jackson Lee arrived in Congress in 1995, one of the first pieces of legislation she supported was the Congressional Accountability Act ("CAA"), which applied several civil rights, labor, disability, and safety laws to the U.S. Congress and its offices. Further, the Congresswoman also supports the recent amendments to the CAA. This law required legislative branch offices, for the first time, to be subject to many of the same employment and workplace laws that applied to the private sector and the federal government. This legislation also set forth a dispute resolution procedure that allows an employee who feels he or she has been aggrieved, to pursue a claim through an administrative process or through federal court. The plaintiff chose federal court and she has every right to utilize this process and pursue a claim through the CAA. 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. 

 CBCF Vice President of Communications, C.J Epps provided KXAN with the following statement: 

“For more than 40 years, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Inc. (CBCF) has worked to facilitate academic, leadership and professional development opportunities for emerging black leaders. As such, we are deeply concerned about the welfare of all our interns and fellows, including ‘Jane Doe’, the former CBCF intern who recently filed suit. It is CBCF's position that the Foundation did not have the purview to terminate Ms. Doe from a staff position in a congressional office, and therefore, did not take such action. We have and will remain supportive of Ms. Doe, and will fully cooperate with all legal proceedings.”

 

Jones, accused of sexual assault, worked as the Political Outreach Director on the Beto for Senate Campaign that aimed to get Congressman Beto O'Rourke elected to the United States Senate in 2018. 

In a statement to KXAN, campaign Communication Director Chris Evans wrote, "The Beto for Texas campaign was absolutely not aware of these allegations until yesterday and no longer has a relationship with Damien Jones."

KXAN reached out to Damien Jones and will update this story if they provide a comment.

KXAN's Phil Prazan contributed to this story. 

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