Staff of Houston state Rep. Jolanda Jones resigns, citing hostile work environment

State Rep. Jolanda Jones, D-Houston, speaks at a rally at the state Capitol regarding the states overdose crisis in Austin on Feb. 15, 2023. (Leila Saidane/The Texas Tribune, Leila Saidane/The Texas Tribune)

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Three staff members of state Rep. Jolanda Jones have resigned, alleging the Houston Democrat created an “abusive and hostile” work environment.

Chief of staff Kory Haywood, legislative director Catherine Mouer and district director Yesenia Wences alleged in a letter to Jones obtained by The Texas Tribune that Jones tasked staff with work unrelated to state business, required them to regularly perform work outside of business hours and regularly threatened to fire employees.

“We, as a collective of senior staff, have repeatedly attempted to curb your behavior and address the type of work environment you have bred over the last month,” the letter states. “But, to no avail; we haven’t seen any success.”

The former employees also alleged that Jones had failed to intervene in what they characterized as an inappropriate relationship between the lawmaker’s son, Jio, and an intern in the office. They also said the lawmaker directed staff to assist in arranging health care for a relative.

Jones released a statement days after her employees resigned, criticizing them for including the name of the intern in their letter. Jones said the intern, a 26-year-old woman with a master’s degree, “categorically denies” any inappropriate relationship with the lawmaker’s son. Jones said the intern has previously been a victim of sexual assault, and the publication of her name in an unfounded allegation has retraumatized her.

“Regardless of whatever political capital I may lose through this matter, I will not allow this young promising professional to be given a scarlet letter,” Jones wrote.

Jones said she was “equally outraged” at the allegations the former employees made about her son, which she said are also false.

Cassi Pollock, spokesperson for House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, said the speaker’s office learned of the complaints against Jones on March 29, and that they would be reviewed to evaluate whether the lawmaker broke any House rules.

“The Speaker’s office takes all allegations seriously and expects that this matter will be addressed and resolved as soon as possible,” Pollock said.

First elected to the Legislature last year, Jones previously served as a Houston City Council member and Houston Independent School District trustee.

She has, at times, struggled to maintain civil relations with colleagues.

During a retreat for Houston ISD board members in 2018, she got into a 30-second shouting match with a fellow trustee, the Houston Chronicle reported. The newspaper also described her as “vocally hostile” with state education officials and reported her comments calling another trustee a thief and crook with “no moral character.”

Houston firefighters said in 2011 then-Council Member Jones made obscene remarks during a station visit and suggested firefighters were lazy. Her spokesperson said the allegations about Jones were false.

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