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Jennings accused of sexual discrimination

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The two former staff members, who were not identified, accused Jennings (D-Jamaica) of sexual harassment and discrimination, and one said he fired her after she rejected his romantic overtures, according to one Queens lawmaker who sits on the Council's Standards and Ethics Committee.

Jennings did not return calls seeking comment.

The committee heard the complaints, which were e-mailed to Council Speaker Gifford Miller (D-Manhattan), who is on the committee, at a brief meeting Dec. 23, a panel member said. According to the allegations, Jennings forced female staffers to clean his house on mornings that they picked him up, the member said.

The women, who no longer work for Jennings, also said they were made to sit in the front of the office and watch a continuous videotape of his television appearances, while male staffers were given desks away from the display, the committee member said.

A source familiar with the workings of Jennings' office said he did treat men and women differently.

      "He always had women answering the phones regardless of their level," the source said. "He would always talk about dating and women at the office. The way he spoke about women a lot of the time was inappropriate."

According to the complaints, the Jamaica councilman made sexual jokes and gave one woman a Caribbean doll with a giant phallus after returning from a trip there, a committee member said.

      "I don't doubt the validity of the charges against him," the source familiar with his office said. "The work environment he creates is extremely unhealthy. The way he behaves is extremely unprofessional. I don't know if it's exactly sexual harassment, but he behaves in a way that's on the border of what's acceptable. He's smart, he knows what's illegal."

The Standards and Ethics Committee reviewed the complaint and referred it to other authorities, including the city Department of Investigations, said Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis), who sits on the committee.

"We referred it to outside authorities to do a more thorough investigation before it comes back to us," he said. "We don't have enough information on what the complaints were to determine if they're valid. It's in the preliminary stages."

The Department of Investigation declined to comment.

Jennings has been a target of the Queens County Democratic Organization since he won the primary election in 2001 without its support. In the 2003 election, the party machine backed Yvonne Reddick, district manager of Community Board 12, for his seat, but Jennings won a narrow victory in the primary despite party attempts to remove him from the ballot.

"They have given him a hard time since day one," one committee member said. "He's taken them on and won."

Jennings has earned a reputation as a wild card in the City Council. He drew the ire of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Council Speaker Miller when he voted against the negotiated 18.5 percent property tax increase in 2002. After the vote, Bloomberg's office withheld Jennings' parking permit and the Council voted in February to remove him from the Finance Committee.

Jennings has said he was further punished through the redistricting process, which trimmed a heavily commercial section of downtown Jamaica - which included his Queens office - from his district.

Early last year Jennings took out half-page ads in Chinese-language newspapers proclaiming his appreciation for the Chinese community and highlighting his personal relationships.

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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