Progressive Rep. Jayapal accused of mistreating staff: report

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Progressive Rep. Jayapal accused of mistreating staff: report

Over a dozen former staffers of Rep. Pramila Jayapal have accused the Washington Democrat of creating a “toxic and abusive” workplace — calling her actions “contrary to the public expectations she has set for others,” according to a new report. 

Jayapal, who has been a vocal proponent of progressive policies for workers across the country such as raising the minimum wage to $15/hour, was accused of running a “dysfunctional and volatile” workplace in a scathing report by BuzzFeed News.

The report, which was the result of a three month investigation by the outlet, cited 14 former staffers, who all spoke anonymously due to fears or retaliation. 

“I’ve worked in bad environments before, and I have worked in some awful environments before for some awful people. I’ve been colleagues with some awful people,” one former staffer said. “I have never worked in a place that has made me so miserable and so not excited for public service as Pramila Jayapal’s office.”

The former staffers claimed Jayapal berated staff in front of others, constantly changed expectations, and demanded grueling hours. Per the report, Jayapal’s office has one of the highest staff turnover rates in the House since she was sworn in. Out of the 16 current members of her personal staff, only five have worked in the roles for more than two years while nine started less than a year ago. 

Rep. Pramila Jayapal
Per the report, the lowest paid position in Jayapal’s office is that of the staff assistant.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

“It’s not sustainable to be able to stay for too long,” one former staffer said. 

While another former staff member described Jayapal as an “effective public advocate for workers,” they added that “she just doesn’t recognize that the staff are also humans.” 

The Washington progressive has been accused of yelling at a staffer during a House Budget Committee hearing in 2019, reportedly bringing the employee to tears. Jayapal’s office did not deny the incident to BuzzFeed News, and said “The anecdote is in no way representative of what it is like to work for someone who has spent decades being a champion of the rights of all workers.”

Multiple sources also alleged that Jayapal once blamed a staffer for her own personal weight gain, claiming there wasn’t enough gym time on her schedule. 

Many of the staffers cited in the report allegedly had to seek therapy while working for the Democrat, noting an unbalanced work-life schedule.

One staffer called the office 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.” That staffer later said that “leaving was the only choice.” 

The staffers alleged their personal lives were affected by long hours, specifically regularly working 12+ hour days without significant breaks. While those hours are not uncommon in the nation’s capital, one former staffer broke down their salary with the hours worked. 

U.S. Rep.  Pramila Jayapal
Lilah Pmerance, Jayapal’s chief-of-staff, accused BuzzFeed News of “cherry-picking” anecdotes.
REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

“If you were to divide it into an hourly wage, it would probably be like $12 to $15 an hour,” the staffer said. “Which is not ideal when considering, like, we are advocating for a $15 minimum wage.”

Some of the former staffers cited in the report noted the starting salary in Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-NY) office is $52,000, saying there is the ability to appropriately pay junior staff on the Hill. 

Per the report, the lowest paid position in Jayapal’s office is that of the staff assistant. A spokesperson for the Democrat’s office told BuzzFeed News that the current staff assistant is paid $42,500 a year. Legistorm lists the median salary for the position at about $38,500. 

Jayapal’s office has also been accused of laying off two staff members in November 2020 without severance, and then inviting one of the staffers to apply for a role that combined the two positions. 

Chris Evans, a spokesman for Jayapal, told BuzzFeed News that the decision was to “best utilize” office resources, noting the staffers were given six weeks’ notice. 

Evans defended the congresswoman and her office, slamming the reports of former staffers relying on therapy in order to work. 

“It is horrible to imply that accessing mental health services is a bad thing,” Evans said. “The Congresswoman has worked to destigmatize mental health care and pushes hard to ensure every person has the full range of care they need.”

Lilah Pmerance, Jayapal’s chief-of-staff, accused BuzzFeed News of “cherry-picking” anecdotes that lacked context and showed “ugly stereotypes.” 

“Women of color are often unjustly targeted, regularly held to higher standards than their male colleagues, and always put under a sexist microscope,” she added.

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