One of the top progressives in Congress runs a ‘horrible’ and ‘miserable’ office as four staffers go public

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Former staffers of the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus said the congresswoman’s office is a “miserable” and “harsh” environment, BuzzFeed News reported.

BuzzFeed spoke with 14 anonymous ex-staffers who worked for Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington over the course of her nearly five years in Congress. The report, which took three months to compile, said the former staffers described the work environment as an “especially harsh office with a boss whose treatment of workers runs contrary to the public expectations she has set for others.”

Ex-staffers speaking with BuzzFeed painted Jayapal as someone who publicly berated those who worked under her and required grueling hours, the outlet reported. Her office had ever-changing expectations and a low tolerance for mistakes, they said.

“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 Jayapal staffer told BuzzFeed. “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.”

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The congresswoman advocates for progressive policies, including the Paycheck Recovery Act, intended to slow layoffs during the pandemic. In November 2020, however, Jayapal laid off two of her staffers without severance, sources familiar with the situation told BuzzFeed.

One of the dismissed staffers was invited to apply to a position that reportedly consolidated the two roles, the sources told BuzzFeed. After going through the full application, the staffer found out the job went to someone else during an all-hands meeting, despite the responsibilities of the position being basically the same as their previous one.

Chris Evans, a spokesperson for Jayapal, told BuzzFeed the choice to consolidate the roles was made to “best utilize” the resources in the office. The two staffers who were laid off declined to speak to BuzzFeed.

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The poor treatment of staff by Jayapal is reportedly an open secret on Capitol Hill. “If you were in Jayapal’s office, people were like, ‘You don’t need to say no more’ — like, ‘We understand’ — so there was that reputation,” a source told BuzzFeed, adding that it was “sad” a progressive leader was known for disrespectful behavior.

Jayapal’s office has one of the highest turnover rates in the House, BuzzFeed reported. One former staffer told BuzzFeed that they were treated well in Jayapal’s office, but couldn’t speak for others.

“Pramila has the absurd task of tackling some of the country’s most urgent problems with the limited resources our system provides,” the staffer said. “Like all members of Congress, she must decide how much of that burden to place on her staff, and like all members of Congress, she doesn’t always get it right.”

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Lilah Pomerance, Jayapal’s chief of staff, told BuzzFeed in a statement the negative anecdotes were “cherry picked,” containing “ugly stereotypes” and missing context. “Women of color are often unjustly targeted, regularly held to higher standards than their male colleagues, and always put under a sexist microscope,” Pomerance said.

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