Former Campaign Staffer Says Trump Forcibly Kissed Her

In this Aug. 24, 2016 photo, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump meets with supporters before a rally at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa. Alva Johnson, who can be seen in the background of this photo on the left wearing a Trump shirt and a hat, claims Trump kissed her without consent in the pictured RV. (Loren Elliott/Tampa Bay Times via AP)

(CN) – A former campaign worker for President Donald Trump filed a federal lawsuit Monday claiming he kissed her without her consent before a 2016 campaign rally in Florida.

Alva Johnson, a 43-year-old event planner from Alabama, made the accusation as part of a larger class action brought in Tampa federal court which also claims the Trump campaign paid female and African-American staffers less than their white male counterparts.

Johnson, who is black, joined the campaign in 2015 as the director of outreach and coalitions for Alabama. She later became part of the campaign’s “national strike team” that dropped into important states to quickly organize volunteers and events. Johnson was named operations administrative director for Florida in the last months of the campaign.

She claims she was working in that role when, inside an RV before an August 2016 rally in Tampa, Trump grabbed her hand and leaned in “close enough that she could feel his breath on her skin” for a kiss on the mouth. She turned her head and Trump landed the kiss on the corner of her mouth, according to the lawsuit.

“Ms. Johnson was wearing a baseball cap with the bill facing forward. Given her baseball cap, defendant Trump’s kiss on Ms. Johnson’s mouth was deliberate and required intention,” the complaint states. “Immediately afterwards, the Secret Service ushered defendant Trump away, off the RV. Ms. Johnson stayed in the RV, in shock about what had just transpired. She felt confused and humiliated.”

Johnson’s lead attorney, Hassan Zavareei of the Washington, D.C.-based firm Tycko & Zavareei, said in a statement Monday that his client “has made the very difficult and courageous choice to come forward today and hold Donald Trump accountable for his sexual predation.”

“Although Trump has been accused by over 20 women of sexual misconduct, most if not all of those claims are barred by the statute of limitations,” he said. “Ms. Johnson is uniquely positioned to go to court and hold the president accountable for his illegal behavior. Trump has bragged about his sexual misconduct, now it is time for him to defend himself in court.”

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders called the accusations “absurd” in a written statement to the Washington Post, which first reported on the lawsuit after receiving a draft copy.

“This never happened and is directly contradicted by multiple highly credible eyewitness accounts,” Sanders wrote.

Trump has yet to comment publicly on the lawsuit.

The kiss allegedly happened in front of former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and several campaign staff members. Bondi told the Post the incident never happened.

The 45-page complaint lists the dozens of accusations of sexual assault and harassment leveled against Trump since the 1980s, including the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape released a month before the 2016 election. In the 2005 recording, Trump tells host Billy Bush about his practice of kissing women without their consent and grabbing their genitals.

“I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her,” Trump said on the recording, referring to actress and model Arianne Zucker. “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful … I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”

When the tape went public on Oct. 7, 2016, Johnson said she “realized that what defendant Trump had done to her was not an isolated incident, but part of a pattern of predatory behavior towards women,” according to her lawsuit.  

Johnson claims she did not attend a rally in West Palm Beach held a week after the tape’s release and instead contacted an attorney. Over the next three days, she moved out of campaign housing, changed her number and quit her position. The attorney, unnamed in the complaint, later declined to represent her. 

She accuses the campaign of paying her thousands less a month than white employees in similar or lower positions. She also claims her direct supervisor repeatedly made racist and sexist remarks about other staff members and volunteers.

“The campaign’s discriminatory pay was part of a larger culture of racist and sexist behavior that pervaded the campaign,” the lawsuit states.

Johnson seeks unspecified damages for one count of battery and two counts of employment discrimination.

The lawsuit also asks the court for an injunction against Trump to prevent him from “grabbing, kissing or otherwise assaulting or harassing women without prior express consent.”

Zavareei, Johnson’s attorney, said she attempted to “move on with her life” after Trump’s victory.

“But when she saw what her work on the campaign had wrought – a president who mocks the #MeToo movement and undermines the dignity of the office with his sexist and racist behavior – she decided to seek justice for herself and the many other women victimized by this sexual predator,” he said.

Zavareei has represented plaintiffs in consumer fraud and employment discrimination lawsuits. He also represented Dr. Steven Hatfill, who was wrongfully accused of plotting the 2001 anthrax attacks.

According to the complaint, Johnson voted for President Barack Obama twice but did not see promised economic gains in Alabama’s black communities. At the urging of her Republican stepfather, she says she contacted the Trump campaign to help with outreach.

“Ms. Johnson signed up to help a long-shot nominee run a successful campaign,” the complaint states. “She did not sign up to be paid less than her colleagues because of her race and gender. And she certainly did not sign up to be forcibly kissed in public, then subjected to humiliating comments from her colleagues that caused her to relive the experience.”

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