Gay Ex-Staffer Files Suit Against Jesse Jackson For Sexual Harassment, Discrimination

A former staffer for Rev. Jesse Jackson and his non-profit Rainbow PUSH Coalition alleges in a lawsuit that he was discriminated against because he is gay, allegedly instructed to bring women to Jackson's hotel rooms and sometimes sexually harassed by Jackson himself.

Tommy Bennett, who filed a sexual discrimination complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights in 2010, filed a lawsuit alleging "pervasive" sexual harassment during his time as a staffer at Rainbow PUSH, a social outreach group started by Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr.

Bennett worked for Rainbow PUSH and Jackson from July 2007-December 2009, beginning as National Director of Community Affairs, according to the complaint.

Bennett, who is gay, alleges that a fellow staff member, Caroline Wiggins, requested to be transferred from under his supervision because of his sexual orientation, and told the rest of the staff as much. She would then "make a limp wrist gesture towards Mr. Bennett whenever Mr. Bennett walked down the hallway," according to the complaint, and led a prayer stating "bind these homosexual spirits that are in the office" and "get these homosexuals out of here and do it in Jesus' name." Soon after, Bennett filed a complaint with Jackson and Human Resources, but says he never got a response.

Wiggins left Rainbow PUSH soon after for reasons never specified, but Bennett alleges that the harassment continued after he took over additional duties in 2008, when Jackson's travel assistant left the organization.

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, 'motherfucker' 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 motherfucker."

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 here.

Jackson and Rainbow PUSH denied the allegations earlier this year, in response to another complaint Bennett filed with the Chicago Commission on Human Relations, saying 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."

The complaint seeks $98,300 for lost income and benefits and $350,000 for punitive damages.


Gay Ex-Staffer Files Suit Against Jesse Jackson For Sexual Harassment, DiscriminationRepublished with permission from TalkingPointsMemo.com. Authored by Jillian Rayfield. Photo via Getty. TPM provides breaking news, investigative reporting and smart analysis of politics.