Report: Progressive Rep Jayapal accused of mistreating staff despite claiming to be a champion for workers

Jayapal has one of the highest staff turnover rates in Congress due to a "toxic and abusive" office and her actions have been called "contrary to the public expectations she has set for others."

Ari Hoffman Seattle WA

Washington state Democrat Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal reportedly runs a "miserable" workplace environment despite claiming to be progressive champion for workers across the country.

Jayapal’s behavior is well known in Washington, DC and 14 former employees were cited by BuzzFeed News after a three month investigation, who worked for the congresswoman over the last five years. Out of the 16 her current personal staff, only five have worked for the congresswoman for more than two years. Nine started less than a year ago.

The outlet said that Jayapal has one of the highest staff turnover rates in Congress due to a "toxic and abusive" office and called her actions "contrary to the public expectations she has set for others."

One staffer called the working environment "so toxic and abusive that I felt like the only way I could continue to function both in my professional and personal life was to seek therapy and counseling." The staffer added that "leaving was the only choice."

The report accused Jayapal of bringing a new staffer to tears after a House Budget Committee hearing and cited three sources who claimed she once blamed a staffer for her personal weight gain and accused the employee of not scheduling enough gym time for her. The report alleged that Jayapal berated staff publicly, regularly changed expectations, and demanded grueling hours.

Jayapal spokesman Chris Evans, told BuzzFeed that the alleged weight gain incident is a "disgustingly sexist rumor" and claimed that a male member of Congress would not face the same criticism.

One worker told the outlet that they had "worked in some awful environments" in DC but "never worked in a place that has made me so miserable and so not excited for public service as Pramila Jayapal’s office."

Lilah Pomerance, Jayapal’s chief of staff, told BuzzFeed that women of color "are often unjustly targeted, regularly held to higher standards than their male colleagues, and always put under a sexist microscope."

Yet, Jayapal’s temper has been seen in public, most notably during a congressional hearing with former ICE director Tom Homan.

Some local Washington state extreme progressives even took to social media to back up the reporting.

Jayapal, the head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, may have learned the behavior from her privileged upbringing. In a May 10, 2004, interview, Jayapal said that she was born into the Nayar caste, which is two steps down from the top of India’s caste system, yet still a position of privilege.

"Everybody in India talks about caste in one way or another, and the Nayar caste, I think that's where it came into my, my sort of just general intellectual space, was just through this one caste that we belonged to called the Nayars, because the Nayars were sort of the glory light."

She added, "the Nayars were always considered, they were the advisors to the king on financial affairs and business affairs. And so we weren't in the top two… there was a lot of prestige associated with the Nayar caste, and kind of financial acumen and world acumen."

In the same interview she said that her grandmother "was absolutely horrible to our servants. Horrible. And she... I shouldn't say 'horrible.' I don't know what's, what's... I don't know what was typical, I guess. But my mother says that that's how everybody was. But, you know, she would be really rude. And I remember part of -- sometimes she would say things that either directly said or maybe it implied, "Well, they're a lower caste and they're..."

She added, "And so I think it entered my consciousness very quickly, because you see it everywhere, how people are treated differently. And I always wondered about that, and I think I started to equate that with standard in life or level, status in life, which was really the caste system."

Jayapal who regularly pushes progressive agenda items like wealth redistribution while demonizing capitalism, discussed in the interview what she called her "US envy" in school.

"They were… mostly kids of embassy folks, who had a hell of a good life, really. I mean, and same thing with the oil company. There, by that time, a lot of people from oil companies were coming. And Indonesia was like a gold mine for the oil companies.

"And so," she went on, "they sent over all these people who, when you're an expatriate, you're given a beautiful house and commissary privileges, which is the American club where you can go and buy peanut butter and other things that are from the United States that they ship in. And there's an American club that's, you have to be an American to go there. And there's the American embassy that shows movies, and you have to be an American to go there, or you can go as a guest, but you have to go through all these, you had to be signed in and can't be left by yourself and all these kinds of things. And so there was always this kind of sense that, boy, America was this amazing place, 'cause they had like peanut butter and all these..." she laughed.

Jayapal added, "I just remember also going to people's houses, and everything was so beautifully decorated, and the bedspreads matched the curtains, and just things like that, that seemed big to me at the time. And I think part of it was also the contrast to, to India, which I was navigating, and going through my own kind of rejection of everything Indian, and kind of wanting to be like my American friends."

Buzzfeed reported that because many of the staffers believe in Jayapal’s message, they did not come forward for fear of creating negative press and thereby weaken Jayapal’s policies. One staffer said of the long hours required, "If you were to divide it into an hourly wage, it would probably be like $12 to $15 an hour. Which is not ideal when considering, like, we are advocating for a $15 minimum wage."


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