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Jesse Jackson denies gay worker’s harassment, discrimination claims

A spokesman for the Rev. Jesse Jackson on Thursday denied a claim from a man who says he was fired from the civil rights leader’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition because he is gay.

Tommy R. Bennett filed a complaint with the city of Chicago’s Commission on Human Relations last year, alleging Jackson fired him unjustly and that the civil rights leader forced him to perform “uncomfortable” tasks, including escorting various women to hotel rooms to meet Jackson for sex.

“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 a 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.”

Bennett claims he worked for PUSH starting in July 2007, and was both an organizer and Jackson’s travel assistant. In his complaint, Bennett — who also goes by the name “Aruba Tommy” — said he experienced discrimination almost immediately, including from a woman at PUSH who refused to work for him because of his sexual orientation, according to the complaint.

Bennett also claims he was forced to escort women for Jackson into hotel rooms — and later clean up the rooms.

Bennett claims he received a letter in December 2009, in which he was told he was being laid off due to a “lack of funding.” But Bennett alleges someone else was then hired to replace him.

Bennett could not be reached for comment Thursday, but his attorney, Thomas V. Leverso, said his client, for a time, “actually enjoyed the work in terms of his actual job duties, but it became increasingly bad and homophobic.”

Under the right circumstances, Leverso said, Bennett would return to PUSH.

“He believes that gay rights are civil rights,” Leverso said. “He believes in that organization reaching the potential of its message, which is that everyone has equal civil rights.”

The Windy City Times first reported Bennett’s allegations on Wednesday. The Human Relations complaint is still being investigated by the city, Leverso said. City officials did not comment.

Contributing: Steve Warmbir



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