A woman who worked on Hispanic voter engagement for President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign has filed a $25 million lawsuit claiming she was the victim of harassment, sexual discrimination and defamation.
Jessica Denson, 32, filed the lawsuit last month in New York State Supreme Court. She said in court filings that her former boss, Camilo Sandoval, who now works for the Treasury Department, targeted her because she was promoted to a position outside of his control.
“The campaign compounded a slander crusade executed by Sandoval against Denson, including the claim that she was responsible for an illegal leak of Donald Trump’s taxes, and extended his assault, step-by-step thwarting and eliminating her very ability to perform the tasks she had been given and perpetuating a climate of fear and terror for the extent of her employment and beyond,” Denson wrote in the complaint, filed November 14. “When Denson reported Sandoval’s severe and pervasive slander, aggravated harassment, attempted theft, cyberbullying and sexual discrimination and harassment based on disturbance with her promotion, the campaign retaliated against Denson by severely diminishing the conditions and scope of her employment and preventing her from career advancement.”
Denson, who is representing herself, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Heavy.
“Throughout and beyond her employment, the campaign further harassed and discriminated against Denson, and endorsed and extended the defamatory characterization of her as one who isa threat and danger to her colleague, future members of the White House administration and the President of the United States,” she wrote.
Here’s what you need to know about Denson and her lawsuit:
1. Denson Was a Phone Bank Worker Before Being Promoted by Steve Bannon to Hispanic Engagement Director
Jessica Denson worked as a paid member of the campaign from August 18, 2016, until November 2016. According to her court filing, she was first hired by Camilo Sandoval, the campaign’s Director of Data Strategy and Voter Contact Operations, as national phone bank administrator.
Her time with the campaign got off to a rough start, she said in court documents.
“Sandoval routinely overworked Denson, requiring that she arrive in the morning, but allowing her to sit idle for hours, even outright ignoring her requests for tasks to work on, and then coming up with assignments at the end of the work day that would require her to stay late into the evening hours,” she wrote. “Under Sandoval’s supervision, Denson was required to work seven days per week at an average of ten hours per day, more than any other staffer in her position.”
Denson also worked as a “full-time” aide to campaign manager Kellyanne Conway shortly after she was hired.
She said that on September 1, 2016, the campaign needed a Spanish speaker to translate for a “critical campaign event,” and her boss, Sandoval, who speaks Spanish, deferred to Denson, saying he wanted to “stay behind the scenes.”
Because of her “excellent work” on that event, she said she was promoted by campaign CEO Steve Bannon on September 3 to “mobilize the campaign’s Hispanic engagement effort, making her the only staffer dedicated to this task on the national level.”
Denson said in court documents that when Sandoval learned of her promotion, he said to her supervisor, in front of her, “Why are you letting the sheep wander?” He also “stated with teeth clenched and in a threatening, domineering and intimidating manner, ‘I hired you and I can fire you,” Denson claims. Denson claims the woman who replaced her in the data role later was also removed because of a “hostile tirade” directed at her by Sandoval.
Denson said she received a “significant salary increase” and assumed the role of Hispanic Engagement Director on September 24. In that role, she said she:
Launched the campaign’s Hispanic engagement effort: fueling a Spanish-language digital ad campaign, successfully advocating for critical foreign policy stances, assembling a team effort among Spanish-speaking staffers, coming up with the official Spanish campaign slogan (Vive el Sueneo Americano!”, developing bilingual campaign literature, launching an official Team Trump Twitter account in Spanish, supporting Hispanic engagement events in targeted states and providing a crucial link between the national campaign and ground efforts for Hispanic engagement. Denson became acquainted with and began to work collaboratively with Arlene (AJ) Delgado, a more recently hired campaign surrogate and senior advisor. During this time and since her hiring, Denson enjoyed growing mutual respect among her colleagues in Trump Tower and exceptionally positive feedback from the field.
According to FEC filings, Denson was paid $6,519.28 in salary while working for the campaign, and also reimbursed for $485.84 in travel expenses.
In late October, Denson was interviewed by KUSA-TV at an event in Greeley, Colorado, about college students from the University of Northern Colorado, who protested at the event. She told the news station that the students likely had their minds made up.
“With all due respect to all of them, I think their presence was not necessarily unbiased,” she said, identifying herself as Jessica Baez-Denson, the campaign staffer in charge of Hispanic engagement.
Denson was never fired by the campaign, working up until November 10, two days after Election Day. But she said that Sandoval and other campaign staffers prevented her from securing a job with the transition team and a potential presidential administration role.
She said Steve Bannon told her on November 16 that she had done “great work” and then offered her a job with the Presidential Transition Team on November 22, “but the offer vaporized.”
Denson said in the lawsuit, “Despite multiple attempts in the following days, weeks and month to reach (a leading member of the transition), he never responded, confirming the campaign’s defamation of her reputation had at some point on or after November 23, 2016 reached this individual as well, and Denson was successfully blocked from assuming any position.”
Denson said that she met Trump during the campaign, and he “had shown great respect and appreciation for her and her work,” but she was cut off from him because of the discrimination and harassment by her colleagues.
Denson said that she was “physically ill and greatly distressed,” because her complaints were ignored, and “maintained her employment with the campaign under duress for the sole purpose of protecting the candidate, presuming that he was not aware of or endorsing these actions and fearing that seeking outside aide may harm his chances in the election.”
2. She Said Delgado ‘Usurped’ Her Position & Helped Sandoval Target Her, While Other Aides Ignored Her Complaints of Harassment & Bullying
Denson said in court documents that things took a turn for the worse for her on September 26 when A.J. Delgado, the Trump campaign adviser she had been working with, “usurped” her position, calling herself “Hispanic Outreach Director.”
On October 1, Denson said she was alerted to “an aggressive conspiracy” by Delgado and Camilo Sandoval to “sabotage her personally and professionally.” Denson said two staffers in the data office told her that Sandoval and Delgado were trying to “find dirt” on her and were “getting Secret Service” involved while trying to find a way to “get her fired.”
The staffers told Denson that Sandoval “would routinely make derogatory and demeaning comments about her to others in the data department,” according to the complaint.
According to Denson, Sandoval launched an “assault” on her on October 2, by starting a rumor that she was responsible for the October 2016 leak of Donald Trump taxes, “a crime against the very candidate whom she was working to elect.”
Denson also is accusing Sandoval of having another staffer try to steal her personal laptop and personal files that she had left at the home of a friend she worked with in the data department for safe keeping. Sandoval and another staffer told the friend to bring the laptop and files to work with her because, “Jessica is in trouble and you should separate yourself from her,” according to court documents.
Denson also said Sandoval “cyberbullied” her by “making multiple unauthorized attempts to reset the password on the Spanish Twitter account solely authorized to the Plaintiff by campaign officials and registered to her phone.”
Denson said she made a complaint about the actions taken by Sandoval to the campaign’s chief operating officer, Jeff DeWitt, on October 2, “but was ignored.”
On October 5, Denson met with human resources director Lucia Castellano, and claims that Castellano was “antagonistic” toward her from the start. Denson claims that Castellano didn’t express concern over the accusation that Sandoval tried to illegal obtain her personal belongings, but instead “expressed great alarm while reading a transcript of a voicemail left by the (Denson’s) mother warning Sandoval that if he did not cease his attempts the law would be involved.” Castellano told Denson, “that’s bad!” after hearing the voice message, according to Denson.
She said Castellano, “instead of making it clear it clear that Sandoval’s attempted criminal activity, slander and harassment was not to be tolerated in a presidential campaign, retaliated against (Denson) with further harassment, discrimination and marginalization.”
Castellano also told staffers about her private hotel accommodations, told Denson that while she was driving her campaign-provided rental car that it was going to be reported stolen, putting her in fear of arrest for possession of a stolen vehicle and suggested she was in possession of a campaign cell phone that never existed, according to Denson.
Denson said DeWitt sent a “libelous email” on October 9 to four staffers claiming that Denson had “wasted campaign money” and was “banned from Trump Tower effective immediately.”
Denson said “Conway and Bannon made subsequent events to have Denson join the campaign’s women’s tour, spearhead other projects and regain a healthy and positive role in the campaign, but both allowed Castellano and DeWitt to trump their authority and restrain Denson in a feckless and degrading – virtually non-existent – position for the remainder of the campaign.”
Denson said Sandoval, Dewitt and Castellano treated her as a “threat and danger” to Trump and told a relative of Mike Pence “they should be ‘careful of’ and ‘distances themselves’ from her.”
Denson said that on November 9, at the campaigns’ election night victory party, a Secret Service agent told her to leave after she was there for three hours, prior to Trump’s arrival, but Trump’s brother told the agent “she’s with us,” and she was allowed to stay.
You can read the full complaint filed by Denson below or here:
Denson is suing for compensatory damages, including lost compensation, lost opportunity, damage to career path, damage to reputation and pain and suffering, along with damages for mental anguish, punitive damages and attorneys fees and costs of the suit.
She said in the court documents that the campaign, caused her “emotional distress, fear of continued cyber-invasion and unwarranted invasion of privacy, and immense loss of opportunity – derailing her professional work and defaming her character.”
Denson added that she was, “specifically prohibited from assuming a position she was offered on the Presidential Transition Team and deprived of every natural progression of personal and professional relationships resulting from her positive and substantial contributions to the campaign of the future President of the United States. Furthermore, due to the wanton and reckless acts committed under the auspices of a presidential campaign, the Plaintiff fears, including but not limited to, unknown damage to her reputation in official records that could cause arbitrary and significant harm to her regardless of her career path moving forward.”
3. The Trump Campaign Hasn’t Commented About the Lawsuit, but Top Aides Told the Daily Mail It’s ‘Slimy,’ ‘Opportunistic,’ ‘Bizarre’ & ‘Wildly Inaccurate’
The Trump campaign has not officially responded to the lawsuit and those named in it have not commented.
Two former senior campaign aides told the Daily Mail they had not heard of Jessica Denson. One told the news site, “Jessica who? I literally have no idea who that is.” The other called the lawsuit, “slimy” and “opportunistic.”
Another top aide, who apparently has heard of Denson, told the Daily Mail the complaint is “wildly inaccurate and bizarre.”
Denson is not the first female Trump campaign staffer to sue over sexual discrimination. A paid Iowa field campaign organizer, Elizabeth Mae Davidson, filed a lawsuit in January 2016 after she was fired.
Davidson, of Bettendorf, Iowa, worked as Trump’s campaign field organizer in Davenport, the third-largest city in Iowa. She said she was fired for making “disparaging comments about senior campaign leaders to third parties,” and breaking a non-disclosure agreement, the Times reported. She was fired January 14, the day after she was quoted in a New York Times article about problems among the campaign’s senior leadership in Iowa, but she says she did not say anything negative to the media.
Davidson claimed in her discrimination complaint that when she met Donald Trump with another young female volunteer at a rally last summer he told them, “You guys could do a lot of damage,” referring to their looks, the New York Times reports.
“Some of the bad things about him I dismissed, because I was working for the candidate,” she told the Times. “Now I’m more critical, especially how he treats women.”
Davidson, who was described in the January Times article as one of the campaign’s most effective organizers, met Trump in early 2015, when he visited Davenport before announcing his candidacy. She said she asked him about potential running mates and he told her, “How about you?,” according to the Times.
Davidson also alleged in her complaint that male workers were paid more money for doing the same jobs as female staffers. The complaint was later dropped.
4. Denson Graduated From George Washington University, Where She Studied Journalism & Spanish
Jessica Denson graduated from D.C.’s George Washington University in 2007 with degrees in journalism and Spanish. While she was at George Washington’s School of Media & Public Affairs, she worked on the university’s news station, GW-TV, including as the host of “White House Weekly.” She also wrote for the student newspaper, the GW Hatchet.
She received the Gracie Allen Award from The Alliance for Women in Media in 2007 for a GW-TV piece on a Holocaust survivor, Dina Babbitt, according to the school’s website.
“I’m inspired by the possibility of communicating with a large number of people and I love the idea of writing for newspapers,” she said in an interview on the George Washington Alumni Relations page.
She said she hoped to work in journalism, possibly overseas, using her ability to speak Spanish and her love for languages.
“I would love to extend what I’ve learned about our democratic process and free access to information to other countries that don’t have the privileges that we do,” she said.
She received the Gridiron Scholarship at GW and interned on CNN’s “The Situation Room” with Wolf Blitzer, which she hoped at the time would lead to a full-time job with CNN.
“Rather than just sticking to the text books, they tell you what works and what doesn’t work in the real world. I’ve been invited to their offices or to journalism-related events as a result,” she said.
5. She Is an Actress Who Has Appeared in HBO’s ‘Show Me a Hero’ & on CBS’ ‘Person of Interest’
Jesisca Denson is an actress, with her biggest role being in the 2015 HBO mini-series “Show Me a Hero,” according to her IMDB profile. She played Gail Wasicsko, the sister-in-law of former Yonkers Mayor Nick Wasicsko, played by Oscar Isaac. David Simon wrote the docu-drama, which was about Nick Wasicsko’s rise from the city council to become the youngest big city mayor in the country in 1987, in the midst of midst of Yonkers fight over federally mandated public housing.
She has also appeared on TV on “Person of Interest” in 2013 and “Kimichi Warrior” in 2010.
Denson also has had small roles in the 2016 movie “Broken Soldier,” and in “La vida detras de la puerta,” “Hot Potato,” the video game “Igor” and “Cat City.” She appeared in those roles with the name Jessica Michaels.