Pramila Jayapal Axed Staffers Without Severance as She Decried Employers' 'Greed'

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D., Wash.) / Getty Images
September 14, 2021

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D., Wash.), who repeatedly decried employers' "greed" during the coronavirus pandemic, last year fired two staffers without severance pay, according to BuzzFeed News.

Jayapal in May 2020 introduced the Paycheck Recovery Act and in June urged Congress to pass the bill so that laid-off workers and business owners could "survive this crisis." The bill, which Congress ultimately did not pass, would not have covered federal staffers. Jayapal in November laid off two of her staffers with only six weeks' notice.

The progressive congresswoman and former activist has made a name for herself in Congress as a defender of workers' rights against ruthless employers. During the pandemic, she blasted the "greed" of employers who refuse to "pay workers a living wage." Yet she has developed a reputation on Capitol Hill of being a horrible boss, and former staff members say there is a "serious disconnect" between the congresswoman's rhetoric and her own managerial style.

Interviews conducted by BuzzFeed with former staff members reveal that Jayapal runs an office with "unrealistic standards" and intolerance for small mistakes. She has one of the highest staff turnover rates in the House of Representatives. Some former staffers attributed their departure to poor wages and a "lack of upward mobility." Others criticized the representative, who says she is a champion of the working class, for running her employees ragged, often for more than 12-hour workdays.

"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 staff member 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."

Another staff member said that while Jayapal may be an effective advocate for workers, she "just doesn't recognize that the staff are also humans." Jayapal yelled at one staff member following a botched witness questioning, leaving that person in tears, and held another responsible for her weight gain because there wasn't enough gym time in her schedule.

Current members of Jayapal's staff defended the congresswoman against charges of mismanagement and abuse of staff.

"Women of color are often unjustly targeted, regularly held to higher standards than their male colleagues, and always put under a sexist microscope," said Jayapal chief of staff Lilah Pomerance.

Jayapal spokesman Chris Evans also dismissed the congresswoman's high turnover rate as a "sensational" statistic that doesn't acknowledge the number of former Jayapal staffers who have gone on to serve in the Biden administration or more senior roles in Congress.

But Jayapal's behavior has led many former staff members to encourage applicants to seek opportunities elsewhere.

"I was like, 'Run in the other direction,'" one former staffer warned a colleague. "I just wouldn't put someone I know through [this]; $40,000, $50,000, I'm sorry, it's just not worth your mental health. I think a lot of us are going to be in therapy for a very long time."

Many former Jayapal staff members said they were willing to speak out against the congresswoman even if their words might detract from the progressive movement.