CHICAGO (CN) – A former employee of the Rainbow Push Coalition, who is gay, claims he was sexually harassed by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and his staff, forced to clean up after Jackson’s sexual escapades with women in hotel rooms, and that the discrimination culminated with his firing two days before Christmas in 2009.
Tommy R. Bennett sued the Rainbow Push Coalition and Jesse Jackson Sr. in Cook County Court. They are the only parties to the complaint.
Bennett says his sexual orientation was well known due to his appearances as the gay “Aruba Tommy” on the nationally syndicated radio program, the “Tom Joyner Morning Show.”
Bennett says he worked in three positions for the Rainbow Push Coalition, for 60 to 70 hours a week, from July 2007 until Dec. 23, 2009.
He was hired as national director of community affairs, where he “was in charge of voter registration, volunteer service, the prison program, the legal clinic and membership,” according to his complaint. He says he later became de facto national field director and Jackson’s travel assistant.
Bennett says the discrimination against him began “almost immediately” after he was hired, because of his sexual orientation.
According to the complaint: “Caroline Wiggins, the membership and volunteer coordinator, went to Rev. Jackson to speak with him and inform him that she did not want to be under his supervision because Mr. Bennett is homosexual.
“Rev. Jackson moved Ms. Wiggins from under Mr. Bennett’s supervision and put her under the supervision of the field director, Rev. Livingston. Mr. Bennett was informed of this by Rev. Livingston.
“Ms. Wiggins told the entire staff that she was glad that she did not have to answer to Mr. Bennett, a homosexual …”
Bennett says that “From that point forward, Ms. Wiggins would make a limp wrist gesture towards Mr. Bennett whenever Mr. Bennett walked down the hallway.”
He says that after she was transferred, “Ms. Wiggins led a prayer during a volunteer meeting and in her prayer, heard throughout the office, she stated, ‘Bind these homosexual spirits that are in our office’ and ‘get these homosexuals out of here and do it in Jesus’ name.'”
Bennett says the prayer obviously was directed at him, as he was the only openly gay Rainbow Push employee at that time. He says he filed an in-house complaint “about Ms. Wiggins’ discriminatory conduct,” and that as far he knows “no investigation or action was taken in response,” but “Ms. Wiggins left soon after Mr. Bennett filed the complaint.”
Then, he says, a female attorney, Tamara Holder, pushed him out of his job as director of the coalition’s legal clinic, because he is male and homosexual.
The complaint continues: “In 2008, at the Rainbow Push Coalition all-staff planning meeting for the National Convention, Mr. Bennett requested a LGBT table and discussion. Mr. Bennett was told by Rev. Jackson that it was not part of the agenda. When Mr. Bennett questioned why not, Rev. Jackson cursed at Mr. Bennett in front of all of the staff. Rev. Jackson was visibly upset during the rest of the meeting.”
Bennett claims he became de facto national field director in 2008 when the Rev. Livingston went on sick leave to care for his dying parents. Also that year, he says, he was appointed Jackson’s travel assistant, when Jackson’s former assistant resigned to become chief of staff to a congresswoman.
“Mr. Bennett was informed by chief of staff John Mitchell that Mr. Bennett was expected to take on these additional duties – both for the national field director and as Rev. Jackson’s travel assistant,” the complaint states.
Bennett says he complained to the head of human resources “that he was doing the duties of three positions and spending his own personal money on the road for tips, hotel and car services. No action was taken, despite his complaints.”
As Jackson’s travel assistant, Bennett says, he was “subjected to humiliating tasks.”
He says, “It was well known Ms. Holder was a mistress of Rev. Jackson. As Rev. Jackson’s travel assistant, Mr. Bennett had been to Ms. Holder’s apartment with Rev. Jackson and was told to wait in the car while he went into her apartment. On several occasions, Mr. Bennett was instructed by Rev. Jackson to escort Ms. Holder to Rev. Jackson’s hotel room at the Hilton at Chicago O’Hare airport.”
Late in 2008, Bennett says, he was accused “by the Chairman of the Board, Martin King, of faxing a letter to the Jackson family from Kinkos at 2 a.m. informing them of the affair between Rev. Jackson and Ms. Holder.”
But Bennett says, “After Rainbow Push did a thorough investigation of the letter, they found out that the letter came from Judge Vanessa Hobson, who was another mistress of Rev. Jackson.”
Bennett says that as Jackson’s travel assistant, he “traveled on all of his business trips around the world. On travel days, Mr. Bennett was instructed to go to Rev. Jackson’s house at 4 a.m. to personally pack his clothes and clean out his closet.”
In May 2008, Bennett says, “at around 4 a.m., Mr. Bennett was at the Rev. Jackson’s home packing his clothes for a trip to Tanzania. Rev. Jackson was not happy with his packing and started screaming ‘motherfucker’ repeatedly. Despite having his visa for Tanzania and preparing for the trip, Rev. Jackson removed Mr. Bennett from the trip.”
Bennett claims that during the trips he did take, Jackson made him do “demeaning and demoralizing tasks, including, but not limited to, escort women to his room after work hours and clean up his room after sexual intercourse with women. Mr. Bennett believes he was forced to do these tasks due to his sexual orientation.”
According to Bennett’s 10-page complaint, Jackson “summoned” him to his room at the O’Hare Hilton in May 2008, and told him “to clean up and pack his things after he had spent the night with Ms. Holder.” Bennett says Jackson flew to New York that day, where, upon arrival, he again was summoned to Jackson’s room, where Jackson told him “that he had a rash between his legs. Rev. Jackson instructed Mr. Bennett to go to the drug store to purchase a prescription.”
The complaint continues: “Mr. Bennett picked up the prescription and brought it back to his room. Rev. Jackson was wearing white brief underwear and instructed Mr. Bennett to apply the cream on his inner thigh. Mr. Bennett refused. Rev. Jackson became very angry and called Mr. Bennett a ‘little motherfucker.'”
In a particularly lurid paragraph, Bennett claims that after taking Cialis to Jackson at dinner, at the O’Hare Hilton, Jackson “summoned” him to his room at 1 a.m. “to take notes.”
The complaint states: “When Mr. Bennett arrived, Rev. Jackson was dressed only in his underwear (briefs) and a V-neck shirt. While Mr. Bennett was taking notes, Rev. Jackson had an erection and was stroking his penis with his hand in his underwear. Rev. Jackson’s breathing was accelerated. Before Mr. Bennett left, Rev. Jackson stated that white folks took the word ‘gay’ and gave the word its own definition. Rev. Jackson further stated that he was a real poor child in North Carolina and his name was first Jesse Burns, and then Jesse Robinson and then he became Jesse Jackson. Rev. Jackson stated that he played football and there was a gay high school teacher who took Rev. Jackson under his wings and told him that he needed education to go along with football. Rev. Jackson said ‘from that gay teacher, I got a good grade, I got to use his car, I got ten dollars and I got my dick sucked.’ Rev. Jackson said, ‘that’s not gay, that is surviving.’ Mr. Bennett understood this to mean that Rev. Jackson wanted him to perform oral sex on him. Mr. Bennett left the room.” (Parenthes in complaint.)
In 2009, Bennett says, an intern asked if he could accompany Bennett after work, because, the intern said, “he wanted to go out to a gay bar.” Bennett said he agreed, and “A month later, the intern stated that Mr. Bennett took him to a gay bar and propositioned him and that they smoked marijuana.”
Bennett says he was put on paid leave from May to December 2009, “pending investigation.” He says he was “made to take a drug test,” which “came back negative.” And he says the investigation “determined that the allegations were not true.”
Bennet says he “believes there was no merit to the allegations and that the investigation was prolonged due to his sexual orientation. In contrast, his complaints were never investigated.”
He says that on Dec. 23, 2009, he was notified that he was being laid off due to lack of funding. But he says a replacement was hired for him, and several other people were hired after he was laid off.
Bennett demands $98,300 in back pay, front pay and lost benefits, and $350,000 in punitive damages, for sexual harassment and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
He is represented by Thomas Leverso, of South Barrington.
Jackson founded the Rainbow Push Coalition, headquartered on Chicago’s South Side, in 1996, as a merger between Operation PUSH (People United to Serve Humanity), which Jackson founded in 1971, and the National Rainbow Coalition, which he founded in 1984.