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Judge: Discrimination suit against Rep. Jackson Lee can proceed

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A judge has refused to dismiss a federal lawsuit accusing Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of discriminating against and mocking a disabled staffer — charges the Texas Democrat denies.

The two-year old suit, first reported by The Washington Times in 2011, was filed by former legislative director Mona Floyd, who declined to comment Tuesday. Ms. Floyd said in court papers that Mrs. Jackson Lee, a 10-term congresswoman from Houston, refused to accommodate her debilitating eye condition called monocular vision.

"I don't care anything about your disability," the complaint quotes the congresswoman as saying.

Mrs. Jackson Lee's legal team sought to have the complaint dismissed, arguing in part that actions concerning her staff are protected under the Speech or Debate clause of the Constitution. In a lengthy ruling, the judge disagreed.

"Decisions about whether to allow an employee to rest or to have additional time to complete an assignments are not legislative acts for which the representative enjoys constitutional immunity from suit," U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras wrote in a Sept. 30 opinion.

Questions to Mrs. Jackson Lee's office were not returned on Tuesday, but her chief of staff, Glenn Rushing, said soon after the lawsuit was filed that the congressional office "fully practices equal employment opportunities for all."

Ms. Floyd first worked for Mrs. Jackson Lee in 2006 as a fellow with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, which notified the congressional office about Ms. Floyd's vision problem. The condition causes eye strain, headaches and fatigue and cuts down on how fast a person can read and comprehend text, according to four documents.

Ms. Floyd left the job after completing her fellowship in late 2007, returning as Mrs. Jackson Lee's legislative director and chief counsel. During negotiations over the job, Ms. Floyd said she could take the position only if the office would make accommodations for her vision disability, such as special software to help her read, according to the suit.

But during her second stint at the congressional office, Ms. Floyd said she received no accommodations and found herself working from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. without breaks to complete her reading.

On April 26, 2010, Mrs. Jackson Lee gave Ms. Floyd reading-related assignments before adding that "it shouldn't take 10 years to finish" the work, according to the complaint.

"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 an affidavit, Mrs. Jackson Lee described the job of legislative director and chief counsel as hectic.

She also said she never fired her former aide, contending that Ms. Floyd resigned in September 2010.

"I have not acted unlawfully, improperly, or with any discriminatory animus toward Ms. Floyd," she said. "I am committed to equal employment opportunity and do not discriminate on the basis of disability or any other factor prohibited by law."

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