Sheila Jackson Lee Stepping Down As Chairwoman Of Congressional Black Caucus Foundation

Written by Dana Sanchez

Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, 13-term Democratic congresswoman from Houston, intends to resign as chairwoman of the nonprofit arm of the Congressional Black Caucus, according to four sources familiar with the matter, BuzzFeed News reported.

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Jackson Lee will also temporarily step down from chairing the House Judiciary Committee’s crime, terrorism, homeland security and investigations subcommittee, according to The New York Times.

One of the most recognizable lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Jackson Lee was elected chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation in April of 2017. The influential nonprofit is linked to the Congressional Black Caucus and promotes African-American career advancement through internships, seminars and policy research.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., second from left, poses during a ceremonial swearing-in with Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas, second from right, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019, during the opening session of the 116th Congress. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

She was recently named in a complaint alleging that she unlawfully fired a woman who planned to sue the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. Jackson Lee denies there was any retaliation.

The former staff member said Jackson Lee firing her as retaliation over claims she was sexually assaulted by a supervisor at the foundation years earlier, according to The Hill.

After initially resisting pressure from the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation board to resign, Jackson Lee told members on Saturday she planned to resign, a source close to the organization said.

After news of the complaint broke, Jackson Lee began facing growing pressure inside and outside of the Congressional Black Caucus, a congressional source familiar with the matter confirmed to The Hill.

The lawsuit, filed earlier this month, alleges that the staffer (“Jane Doe”) was raped in October 2015 by 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 asked for a meeting with Jackson Lee to discuss her plan to sue the Congressional Black Caucus, but says she was not granted a meeting and instead was fired weeks later, The Hill reported.

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.”

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation board gave Jackson Lee an ultimatum after the claims became public: step down as chairwoman or face a vote of removal as soon as this week, according to an unnamed source.

Jackson Lee has a long record supporting workplace safety and nondiscrimination laws, including a measure applying those standards to Congress, and she will be cleared of any wrongdoing, her office said in a statement.

As the case unfolds, the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence said it could not continue to work with Jackson Lee as the lead sponsor of legislation reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. 

Jackson Lee is just the latest lawmaker affected by sexual impropriety cases since the #MeToo movement reached Capitol Hill, NYT reported. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, a Connecticut Democrat, did not seek re-election in 2018 over what she called her failure to protect women on her staff from sexual harassment and threats of violence from her former chief of staff.

The complaint dates to October 2015, when the woman, then 19 and a student at Howard University in Washington, spent the fall semester interning at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. She says that the internship coordinator took her out drinking one night and then back to his apartment where he forced her to perform oral sex and other unwanted sexual acts. The woman could not remember parts of what happened during the encounter, the filing says.

The woman spoke with the internship coordinator the next day, who denied they had sex. When she met with representatives of the foundation, they placed him on leave and then fired him after the 2015 incident for drinking with a minor. 

The woman did not initially file a lawsuit, and was hired two years later after graduating from Howard by Jackson Lee’s office.