Sheila Jackson Lee ousted as chair of Congressional Black Caucus Foundation after lawsuit

January 23, 2019

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee has been pushed out as chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation after she was accused in a lawsuit last week of retaliating against an employee who complained of being raped.

She also lost her post as the top Democrat on a Judiciary Committee’s crime, terrorism and homeland security subcommittee, which she had been in line to chair in the new Congress.

Despite being the third-ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, she does not have any subcommittee chairmanships, according to the list Democrats announced Wednesday afternoon.

Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler said Ms. Jackson Lee made a decision to “voluntarily and temporarily step back” from the subcommittee chairmanship so as not to derail the panel’s work.

“This decision does not suggest any culpability by Representative Jackson Lee,” Mr. Nadler, New York Democrat, said. He said Rep. Karen Bass would serve as chairwoman “until the matter is resolved and Representative Jackson Lee can resume the role of chair.”

The New York Times reported that key activist groups had said in the wake of the rape-retaliation allegation that they could not work with the Texas congresswoman on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, which is a major piece of work looming for the panel.

Several outlets reported Ms. Jackson Lee’s decision, under pressure, to step down from the CBCF, which is the nonprofit arm of the Congressional Black Caucus, the symbolically powerful group of black lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

The moves came a week after a woman, identified only as “Jane Doe” in her lawsuit, said she was raped by a CBCF employee in 2015, when she was a 19-year-old intern and her attacker was the 30-year-old coordinator of the CBCF’s intern program.

Her lawsuit contained lurid details and suggested a police investigation ensued, including taking the alleged attacker’s DNA, though it does not appear a prosecution took place.

Ms. Jackson Lee was not chair of the CBCF at the time the woman says the rape occurred but became chair in 2017.

The Jane Doe plaintiff was also hired in Ms. Jackson Lee’s office in late 2017, and at some point last year, told the congresswoman’s chief of staff that she planned to pursue legal action against the CBCF for the trauma she suffered.

The woman says she was soon fired from Ms. Jackson Lee’s office, and says the budget and work performance explanations given don’t jibe with the facts. She says she believes the firing was retaliation.

Ms. Jackson Lee’s office last week denied the wrongful termination and said it was not involved in the events the Jane Doe plaintiff described from 2015.

Her office did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday on her ouster from her leadership posts.

Update hourly