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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Jesse Jackson case: Investigation goes on, offer rejected
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times
2012-07-02

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There have been developments in the case of Tommy Bennett, a gay former Rainbow PUSH employee who filed a discrimination complaint and, later, a lawsuit against the organization and its leader, the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

In the initial complaint, filed with the City of Chicago Commission on Human Relations (CCHR), Bennett claimed that he experienced sexual orientation-based discrimination almost immediately after he started the job in 2007, saying that a now-former membership and volunteer coordinator, complained to Jackson that she did not wish to work with Bennett because he is gay. Bennett also claimed that Jackson cursed at him in front of other staff members and even alleged that Jackson wanted Bennett to perform oral sex on him. (The latter event allegedly happened after Bennett became Jackson's travel assistant.)

The lawsuit, among other things, claims that Bennett's superiors ignored his complaints and that he was eventually let go because of his sexual orientation.

Bennett's attorney, Thomas Leverso, told Windy City Times that rumors that the case had been settled are far from true—but did say his client received an offer. "In terms of disclosure about the amount of money, I can't tell you the figure," he said. "However, I can tell you that it was so far below any of our demands that it was insulting. As to the process, the case is alive and well in Cook County [regarding] the IDHR [Illinois Department of Human Rights] claims. As for [CCHR], they haven't communicated anything except that they're moving forward with the investigation."

Regarding the court case, Leverso said, "We're headed to a judgment quite soon because they're not even showing up to court." He added that CCHR can "make a finding and issue a monetary amount or [issue] injunctive relief, just like a court can." However, he also said that IDHR chose not to investigate. ("I suspect they're backlogged a little bit," he said.)

Bennett is seeking at least $98,300 in lost income and benefits and $350,000 for emotional distress and other damages.

Meanwhile, Candice Brown—another former PUSH employee—has filed three IDHR cases against Rainbow PUSH, Marshette Turner (with PUSH's Trade Bureau) and Chief of Staff John Mitchell, and one CCHR case against all the defendants together. Among other things, Brown alleges harassment.

At one point in the supplement to the complaints, Brown stated "how any time an employee 'was not liked' by the Rainbow PUSH any longer, she was to terminate the employee and draft a letter" that cited "either 'economic downturn' or 'lack of funding' as the reason for the termination, despite funding either remaining constant or increasing during the times of the terminations." She also said she "drafted one such letter to a Mr. Tommy Bennett, stating inter alia lack of funding as [the] reason for layoff."

In a statement to Windy City Times, Leverso (who also represents Brown) said, "Knowing all of the potential repercussions, Ms. Brown would not have filed her claims against Rainbow PUSH and certain officers and employees if she was not interested in bringing justice to the situation.

"Ms. Brown has no doubt that a thorough investigation will substantiate her allegations and has the utmost faith in the Chicago Commission on Human Relations, the Illinois Department of Human Rights, their respective investigators, and the process. At this point, Rainbow PUSH can either dig in its heels or stand on the side of civil rights and equal justice for all human beings by working with Ms. Brown and with the women's community."

Attempts to reach out to Rainbow PUSH were not returned.


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