The Rev. Jesse Jackson, founder of the Chicago-based Rainbow PUSH Coalition, is denying claims that a former staffer with the organization was fired because he is gay. Tommy Bennett, also known as Aruba Tommy, filed a complaint last week with the Chicago Commission on Human Relations.
“The Rainbow PUSH Coalition and Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. unequivocally deny Tommy Bennett’s false claims of harassment, retaliation and discrimination. We are fully cooperating with the Chicago Commission on Human Relations and expect to be fully exonerated,” according to a statement released on Friday.
“The organization does not condone or tolerate discrimination in any form. Reverend Jesse L. Jackson Sr. and the Rainbow PUSH Coalition stands on their record of advocating for equality and human rights for all people - from standing up to affirm the humanity of persons with HIV-AIDS and advocating for HIV-AIDS education and research to supporting marriage equality and the abolition of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy of the U.S. Military,” according to the statement from Rainbow PUSH.
Details of Bennett’s complaint were revealed in the Windy City Times, a gay community newspaper in Chicago. According to the complaint, Bennett said he was notified on Dec. 23, 2009 that he was being terminated because of funding, the paper reported.
He is asking for $98,000 in back pay, front pay and loss of benefits, in addition to $350,000 for emotional distress and punitive damages. Bennett also wants Rainbow PUSH to amend its non-discrimination policy to include sexual orientation and gender identity, according to the Windy City Times.
Jackson and Rainbow PUSH said the allegations by Bennett are an attempt to “malign Rev. Jackson and the organization and are hurtful and harmful to the progressive community.”
News of the allegations comes just as Jackson and Rainbow PUSH gear up for several major events. On Sunday, May 1 through Tuesday, May 3, the organization is hosting a national energy and science symposium in Texas. And in June, Rainbow PUSH will convene its 40th annual conference.
A spokesman for Rainbow PUSH said neither Jackson nor the organization will have further comment while the matter is pending before the Human Relations Commission.