Hand­i­capped ex-aide sues dis­abled-rights cru­sader Jack­son Lee

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY JIM MCELHATTON

When Rep. Sheila Jack­son Lee spoke at a House hear­ing last year, she made clear the fed­eral gov­ern­ment needed to do more to help dis­abled Amer­i­cans and even talked of plans to in­tro­duce leg­is­la­tion named af­ter singer Ste­vie Won­der to help dis­abled school­child­ren.

But a for­mer top aide to the Texas Demo­crat, said the law­maker’s pub­lic sup­port for the dis­abled was nowhere to be found in her own con­gres­sional of­fice when it came to the aide’s vi­sion im­pair­ment. Mona Floyd, who served as the con­gress­woman’s leg­isla­tive di­rec­tor, has monoc­u­lar vi­sion. She said she was told by Mrs. Jack­son Lee in a pri­vate con­ver­sa­tion within weeks of the hear­ing, “I don’t care any­thing about your dis­abil­ity.”

An­other time, when Ms. Floyd, a lawyer, brought up her dis­abil­ity, she said an­other staffer told her the con­gress­woman had said, “I don’t give a damn about her dis­abil­ity.”

The ac­cu­sa­tions were out­lined in a sharply-worded law­suit filed re­cently in fed­eral court in Wash­ing­ton, which seeks un­spec­i­fied pay and com­pen­satory and puni­tive dam­ages. Ac­cord­ing to the com­plaint, Ms. Floyd, who did not re­turn phone mes­sages for com­ment, re­ceived rea­son­able ac­com­mo­da­tions for her vi­sion dis­abil­ity when she went to work for the con­gress­woman in Au­gust 2007. But Ms. Floyd said in the court pa­pers, the con­gress­woman be­came dis­mis­sive when she re­turned in Fe­bru­ary 2010 to be­come Mrs. Jack­son Lee’s leg­isla­tive di­rec­tor.

“Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Jack­son Lee’s dis­mis­sive re­sponse to her staff mem­ber’s own dis­abil­ity proved that the rep­re­sen­ta­tive was not a true ad­vo­cate for per­sons with dis­abil­i­ties, but in­stead only paid lip ser­vice to that con­stituency,” Ms. Floyd said in her law­suit.

A spokesman for Mrs. Jack­son Lee de­clined to com­ment on the spe­cific ac­cu­sa­tions in the law­suit af­ter The Wash­ing­ton Times pro­vided a copy of the com­plaint to the con­gress­woman’s of­fice.

“The of­fice of U.S. Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Jack­son Lee con­sid­ers in­ter­nal per­son­nel mat­ters con­fi­den­tial and will not com­ment pub­licly on the al­le­ga­tions at this time, ex­cept to say that the of­fice fully em­braces and fully prac­tices equal em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties for all,” said Mrs. Jack­son Lee’s chief of staff, Glenn Rush­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to the court pa­pers, Ms. Floyd started work­ing in the of­fice as a fel­low through the Con­gres­sional Black Cau­cus Foun­da­tion, which told Mrs. Jack­son Lee’s of­fice that Ms. Floyd was vi­sion im­paired and needed spe­cial com­puter soft­ware and ac­com­mo­da­tions. When the soft­ware didn’t work, Ms. Floyd in­stead was given rest breaks and ex­tra time to fin­ish tasks, the law­suit said.

Un­der those cir­cum­stances, Ms. Floyd said she did well and was hired on per­ma­nently as the con­gress­woman’s di­rec­tor of health pol­icy and se­nior leg­isla­tive as­sis­tant, the suit said. In that role, Ms. Floyd said, she per­son­ally told the con­gress­woman about her vi­sion prob­lems and helped draft leg­is­la­tion ad­dress­ing de­fi­cien­cies in the ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem for peo­ple with vi­sion dis­abil­i­ties.

In De­cem­ber 2007, Ms. Floyd left the of­fice for a job at a health ad­vo­cacy non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion as se­nior di­rec­tor, but af­ter a lit­tle more than two years she wanted to come back to Congress and got a job in Mrs. Jack­son Lee’s of­fice as leg­isla­tive di­rec­tor and chief coun­sel, ac­cord­ing to the suit.

De­spite as­sur­ances the of­fice again would make ac­com­mo­da­tions for her dis­abil­ity, Ms. Floyd said that never hap­pened and she found her­self work­ing from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. with­out any rest breaks, which she called “phys­i­cally im­pos­si­ble” given her vi­sion prob­lems.

In the law­suit, Ms. Floyd said that on April 26, 2010, Mrs. Jack­son Lee gave her nu­mer­ous read­ing-re­lated as­sign­ments be­fore adding that it shouldn’t take 10 years to fin­ish. She left the of­fice in Septem­ber.

“The rep­re­sen­ta­tive reg­u­larly made these types of deroga­tory com­ments about the speed of Ms. Floyd’s work, which the rep­re­sen­ta­tive knew was a re­sult of her vi­sion im­pair­ment,” the law­suit said.

In pub­lic, Mrs. Jack­son Lee has ad­vo­cated for the dis­abled. In a hear­ing on the Amer­i­cans With Dis­abil­i­ties Act, she noted there were 3 mil­lion peo­ple in Texas with dis­abil­i­ties and she was work­ing on leg­is­la­tion to help vis­ually im­paired stu­dents at el­e­men­tary, sec­ondary and post-sec­ondary lev­els.

“It ad­dresses ma­jor con­cerns of vis­ually im­paired Amer­i­cans that were brought to our at­ten­tion through meet­ings with or­ga­ni­za­tions rep­re­sent­ing those vis­ually im­paired,” Mrs. Jack­son Lee said.

She also com­pli­mented her staff and sin­gled out Ms. Floyd.

The law­suit was filed last month and a sum­mons was served on Mrs. Jack­son Lee’s of­fice two weeks ago, ac­cord­ing to court pa­pers. Ms. Floyd has filed a mo­tion to have a lawyer ap­pointed to rep­re­sent her, cit­ing fi­nan­cial hard­ship in what she called a ter­ri­ble job mar­ket.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Rep. Sheila Jack­son Lee, Texas Demo­crat, is the tar­get of a law­suit by an ex-aide who claims the con­gress­woman is not a true ad­vo­cate for the dis­abled. The ex-aide, who has a vi­sion dis­abil­ity, has filed suit.

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