Rev. Jesse Jackson Denies Harassing Gay Former Employee
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UPDATED 04/15/ 6:00 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS)– A former employee of the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition makes shocking claims in a complaint, alleging that he was let go because he was gay, and that he perceived that Jackson sexually propositioned him.
Tommy Bennett filed a complaint with the city of Chicago’s Commission on Human Relations last year, alleging Jackson fired him unjustly. A copy of the complaint was obtained by CBS 2.
The Rainbow/PUSH Coalition denies the allegations.
The complaint says Bennett worked as the national director of community affairs at Rainbow/PUSH from July 2007 to December 2009. He said his sexual orientation was known among his co-workers largely because of a side job in which he was “Aruba Tommy” on the Tom Joyner radio show.
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Bennett alleges he was a victim of discrimination at Rainbow/PUSH shortly after he started working there, saying a membership and volunteer coordinator complained to Jackson that she didn’t want to work with Bennett because he is gay.
The complaint says the membership and volunteer coordinator, identified as Caroline Wiggins, led a prayer during a volunteer meeting within earshot of Bennett in which she said, “Bind these homosexual spirits that are in the office, and, “get these homosexuals out of here and do it in Jesus’ name.” But when Bennett approached Wiggins about it, he was told to leave and “avoid confrontation,” the complaint alleged.
Bennett’s complaint also includes sensational claims about Jackson himself. He says in 2008, he took over duties as Jackson’s “travel assistant” and was forced to escort women for into hotel rooms for Jackson and later clean up the rooms, which Bennett calls “demoralizing tasks.” Bennett says he believes he was assigned these tasks because he was gay.
The most graphic allegations in the complaint stem from an alleged incident at the Hilton Chicago O’Hare, when Bennett says he was summoned to Jackson’s room to take notes. Bennett claims he found Jackson dressed in underwear and a T-shirt, and alleges that Jackson made a comment Bennett took to be a proposition for a sex act. Bennett left the room, the complaint alleges.
Bennett claims further that in December 2009 he was laid off for what he was told was a “lack of funding,” but someone was hired to replace him, and several others were hired after he was laid off.
In response to the complaint, Rainbow/PUSH said Bennett lost his job as a result of budget cutbacks. The organization released a statement Thursday.
“The Rainbow PUSH Coalition and Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., unequivocally deny Tommy Bennett’s false claims of harassment, retaliation and discrimination,” PUSH spokeswoman Lauren Love said in the written statement. “We are fully cooperating with the Chicago Commission on Human Relations and expect to be fully exonerated.”The statement goes on to say that Bennett’s “inflammatory allegations are an attempt to malign Rev. Jackson and the organization, and are hurtful and harmful to the progressive community.”
Several sources tell CBS2 news that Bennett started complaining because he was denied a raise. They also say Bennett is making the public complaint to gain publicity for a book he’s planning to write on his life.
Bennett used to live at a South Shore apartment building. But according to civil lawsuit, he was evicted in February for failing to pay his rent for several months and causing damage to the building.
The landlord told CBS2 that before Bennett moved he once left a skillet burning on the stove, causing a small fire. Another time he left the water running in the tub allowing it to overflow into the lobby below.
The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.