Gay Former Staffer Accuses Jesse Jackson of Discrimination, Sexual Harassment
A gay former staffer of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition claims he was sexually harassed by the founder and president, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and discriminated against for years until he was fired in 2009. He is now suing the Illinois organization for $448,300 in back pay and damages.
Tommy Bennett, a radio personality and Rainbow PUSH employee from 2007 to 2009, claims in court documents that Jackson, a civil rights leader, subjected him to perform various duties, including delivering mistresses to his hotel rooms and waiting in the car while he had sex with them. Bennett also alleged that Jackson frequently came on to him during trips and meetings.
Bennett is a regular guest on the syndicated radio program “The Tom Joyner Morning Show” and said his homosexual orientation is widely known. For that reason he believes that Jackson often charged him with handling sexual affairs.
During his travels with the Rainbow PUSH president, Bennett alleged that he was made to "escort women to his room after work hours and clean up his room after sexual intercourse with women," according to court documents.
Bennett also alleged that Jackson called him to his room multiple times while dressed in his underwear. Court documents show that during one such call, "Rev. Jackson was wearing white brief underwear and instructed Mr. Bennett to apply the cream [for a rash] on his inner thigh." Bennett refused this request.
Bennett gave other instances in which he claimed Jackson was making sexual advances toward him.
Coalition staff members, he also claimed, were allowed to continually discriminate against him despite his complaints.
Court documents show that one employee refused to be supervised by a homosexual and allegedly prayed publicly that God would "bind these homosexual spirits" in the office. Bennett said he complained to Jackson, but did not receive a response. He did acknowledge, according to the Today Show, that the woman left the office a short time later.
Bennett described his job responsibilities for Jackson as "demeaning and demoralizing" and said he was discriminated against from the start of his employment for his sexuality. Yet he remained with the coalition for nearly three years.
He told the Windy City Times he stayed with the coalition because "I enjoyed what I did and I thought things would get better." Bennett also said of Jackson, "He was really not a bad person to work for; it was the staff he had around him."
The coalition said they laid Bennett off a year ago because of funding cuts, but he claims others were hired after he left. Bennett stated in court documents that he was fired because of his sexuality.
When asked if he would return to the Rainbow Coalition if given the chance, he told WCT, "You know? I probably would."
He then added, "But not under those conditions ... I would starve before I work under homophobic conditions."
Jackson is no stranger to headlines. Jackson, who attended Chicago Theological Seminary (CTS), was ordained a Baptist minister in 1968 though he did not have a theological degree. In 1990, CTS awarded him an honorary theological degree, and also awarded Jackson a Master of Divinity degree after the faculty committee decided his experience had satisfied the degree requirements.
In 2000, it was revealed he had an affair with Karin Stanford, the former director of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition's Washington, D.C., office. Stanford spoke out about the affair after she gave birth to Jackson's child.
Jackson has four other children by his wife, Jacqueline Brown.
The New York Times later revealed that the coalition had paid Stanford a $35,000 severance package. Though the money was said to be for moving fees and work compensation, some believed it to be hush money.
In the current controversy, Bennett's attorney, Thomas Leverso, said his client filed complaints for the alleged discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights and Chicago's Commission on Human Relations last year. The Illinois Department of Human Rights chose not to pursue the complaint in court and gave Bennett the go-ahead for a lawsuit; the lawsuit was filed Sept. 16. The Chicago Commission for Human Rights is still investigating the matter.
The Christian Post contacted the Rainbow PUSH Coalition for a comment on the lawsuit. The coalition did not respond before publication time.
However, the coalition released a statement stating that both Jackson and the coalition "unequivocally deny" the "false and inflammatory claims" meant to "malign [the] Rev. Jackson and his organization."
The organization also noted Jackson's stance as a progressive and his opposition to the recently overturned “Don't Ask Don't Tell” policy, which barred homosexuals from serving openly in the military.