Former Staffers Accuse Progressive Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal of Mistreatment, Toxic Work Culture
- They say their former boss “berated staff in front of others, demanded grueling hours, and maintained an office culture marked by constantly changing expectations and little tolerance for error.”
Several former staffers who worked for Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), have accused her of allegedly mistreating them. Over a dozen of those, who worked for Jayapal, considered one of the leading progressive voices in the Congress, and chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told BuzzFeed News that Jayapal’s interactions with her employees “have run counter to the public persona she’s built for herself.”
According to the BuzzFeed News report, a few months after Jayapal, the first Indian American woman elected to the U.S. Congress, introduced the Paycheck Recovery Act, “aimed at curbing layoffs during the pandemic by having the federal government pay people’s salaries,” she “laid off two staffers without severance.”
While BuzzFeed News didn’t speak to the staffers who were laid off, it cites sources to report their experiences.
Speaking about the staffers, Chris Evans, a spokesperson for Jayapal, told BuzzFeed News “the staffers were given six weeks’ notice.” He said the reason for letting them go was due to “a decision to consolidate,” which was made to “best utilize” the office’s resources.
Sources told BuzzFeed News that the staff member who was told they were being laid off “was invited to reapply for a new job in the office that would consolidate the two roles.” Although the staffer applied for the job, which was “nearly identical to the one they had been laid off from,” they later found out, “without any advance warning,” that they didn’t get it.
Four staffers who spoke to BuzzFeed News said the incident upset them, but they added that one of many instances in which Jayapal’s interactions with her employees. They said, throughout her five years in the Congress, Japayal has built “a dysfunctional and volatile workplace,” where there is “a serious disconnect between how she talks about workers’ rights and how she treats her own staff.”
They said their former boss “berated staff in front of others, demanded grueling hours, and maintained an office culture marked by constantly changing expectations and little tolerance for error.” This led to some staffers seeking therapy and questioning their careers in public service.
They said, “burnout, lack of upward mobility, low pay, and an unsustainable work environment were among the reasons they chose to leave.” While one source admitted to taking a pay cut to get out of office, another said they had been “fighting for a raise for nearly a year,” before it became too much, “emotionally, physically, and mentally.” They confessed that “despite believing in Jayapal’s cause and having a certain image of her, former staffers were largely disappointed by the reality of working for her.”
One staffer told BuzzFeed News: “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,” but “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 report said that staffers chose to remain anonymous, but were “obligated to speak out despite worrying that a critical story about Jayapal would reflect poorly on the progressive movement they believe in.” One former staffer equated it to Stockholm syndrome. The report added that “ultimately, most decided to share their accounts because they felt it was vital to spotlight how the progressive leader treats her staff and the Capitol Hill culture that enables that behavior. “Jayapal is an effective public advocate for workers, another former staffer said. “She just doesn’t recognize that the staff are also humans.”
Evans and Jayapal’s chief of staff, Lilah Pomerance both supported their boss. In a statement sent to BuzzFeed News, Pomerance said: “Women of color are often unjustly targeted, regularly held to higher standards than their male colleagues, and always put under a sexist microscope.”
Similarly, Evans said Jayapal is “one of less than 100 women of color to have EVER served in Congress and I can’t even begin to imagine this disgustingly sexist rumor about weight and body image being said about the thousands of men who have walked those halls. The Congresswoman is able to serve her 711,000 constituents, lead the progressive caucus, and go to the gym.”
Citing an analysis from Congressional tracking service LegiStorm, the report noted that for the past five years in the House, “Jayapal has repeatedly had one of the highest staff turnover rates in Congress, ranking 33rd out of 539 members from 2017 to 2020 — in the 94th percentile. And this year, Jayapal is now in the 96th percentile for turnover,” the report said.
The report cited Jayapal’s office numbers, noting that “of the 16 current full-time members in her personal staff, which does not include caucus staffers who also fall under her supervision, nine started less than one year ago and five have been in the office for more than two years. “If you’re working for the champion of workers, you would think and hope that’s not the case,” a former staffer told BuzzFeed News of the turnover.