A former staffer to Rev. Jesse Jackson has filed a lawsuit against Jackson and his nonprofit Rainbow PUSH Coalition, claiming he was sexually harassed and discriminated against because he is gay.
According to the complaint, filed Sept. 16, Tommy R. Bennett worked for outreach organization Rainbow PUSH from July 2007 to Dec. 2009. During that time, he said he was subjected to a barrage of humiliating and discriminating behavior from both Jackson and a fellow staff member, Caroline Wiggins.
In one instance, the complaint said, Wiggins requested to be transferred from under Bennett’s supervision because of his sexual orientation, which was widely known around the office. She then allegedly told the rest of the staff she was glad she did not have to answer to Bennett anymore and “would make a limp wrist gesture towards Mr. Bennett whenever Mr. Bennett walked down the hallway.”
In 2008, soon after Wiggins was transferred, the complaint said she led a prayer during a volunteer meeting in which she stated, “bind these homosexual spirits that are in the office” and “get these homosexuals out of here and do it in Jesus’ name” — comments that were heard throughout the office. At that point, Bennett filed a Human Resources complaint but said he never got a response.
Wiggins left the organization for unspecified reasons soon after Bennett filed the complaint.
Later in 2008, Bennett was appointed Jackson’s travel assistant, during which time he said he was harassed by Jackson himself and made to do “demeaning and demoralizing tasks.”
According to Talking Points Memo:
He claims that he was instructed to do a number of “humiliating tasks,” including “escort women to [Jackson's] room after work hours and clean up his room after sexual intercourse with women,” arrange a massage for Jackson, and bring Jackson Cialis from his room. For a trip to Tanzania, Bennett alleges he was asked to pack for Jackson, who “was not happy with his packing and started screaming, ‘motherf***er’ repeatedly.” In another instance, he alleges he was asked to pick up a prescription and apply it to a rash on Jackson’s inner thigh. When Bennett refused, he claims Jackson called him “little motherf***er.”
In the most lurid of the allegations described, Bennett alleges Jackson, dressed only in briefs, made implicit sexual advances towards him when describing a time when he got oral sex from a teacher. Read more in the complaint (.pdf) here.
Bennnett was placed on paid leave in May 2009, the complaint said, after an office intern falsely claimed Bennett had taken him to a gay bar, propositioned him and smoked marijuana with him. Although a subsequent investigation determined the allegations not to be true, Bennett was formally terminated in Dec. 2009, supposedly due to a lack of funding — despite the organization hiring a replacement and filling several other positions after he left.
According to the Chicago Tribune, in a joint response to a separate complaint Bennett filed earlier this year, Jackson and Rainbow PUSH said they “unequivocally deny Tommy Bennett’s false claims of harassment, retaliation and discrimination”:
“The organization does not condone or tolerate discrimination in any form,” the statement said. “His inflammatory allegations are an attempt to malign Rev. Jackson and the organization, and are hurtful and harmful to the progressive community. We are fully cooperating with the Chicago Commission on Human Relations and expect to be fully exonerated.”
Bennett is seeking at least $98,300 in lost income and benefits and $350,000 for emotional distress and other damages.