The XX Factor

Former Trump Staffer Files Complaint Accusing Campaign of Sex Discrimination

“You guys could do a lot of damage,” Trump allegedly told a female staffer and a volunteer about their looks. Here, the candidate speaks in Des Moines, Iowa on Jan. 28, 2016.

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

A former Iowa field organizer for Donald Trump’s presidential bid has accused the campaign of gender discrimination, filing an official complaint with the Davenport Civil Rights Commission on Thursday. Elizabeth Mae Davidson, a 26-year-old paralegal and former paid Trump staffer, alleges that the campaign paid her male counterparts a heftier salary and gave them more leadership and speaking opportunities. In her complaint, Davidson also claims that Trump made a sexually inappropriate remark to her and a female volunteer at a 2015 rally.

The New York Times reports that Davidson made $2,000 a month on the Trump campaign while some men who shared her job title, district representative, made $3,500 to $4,000 a month. Davidson told the Times the campaign justified her pay by classifying her work as part-time, since she had another job as a paralegal, but a male district representative who also worked a second gig made the higher pay grade.

Davidson’s complaint states that when she and another campaign-affiliated woman met Trump last year, he commented on their physical appearance: “You guys could do a lot of damage,” Davidson alleges he said. Trump told the Times that he never said that, writing off Davidson’s accusations as the bitter retribution of a scorned former employee. “My people tell me she did a terrible job,” he said.

The Trump campaign fired Davidson on Jan. 14; her gender-discrimination complaint says the she was terminated for making “disparaging comments about senior campaign leaders to third parties” and violating a nondisclosure agreement. Her termination came just one day after a Times article called her “one of the campaign’s most effective organizers.” The piece doesn’t quote or mention any interviews between the reporter and Davidson, who claims that male district representatives spoke to news outlets on the record and were not fired.

It does, however, quote Davidson’s recruitment pitch to a potential volunteer:

As people streamed in, a Trump field representative, Elizabeth Mae Davidson, sought to enlist volunteers as precinct leaders.

“What does that entail?” asked Selena Jacobs, who had never caucused before.

“You stand up and say why you want to support Mr. Trump,” Ms. Davidson said.

“Hmm,” Ms. Jacobs replied, adding that she was not sure she would speak well in public.

“I think you would, you’re pretty,” Ms. Davidson said.

A comment about a woman’s looks means something different when it comes from another woman instead of a man, and certainly when it comes from a young organizer instead of a presidential candidate and millionaire. Trump denies that he ever remarked on Davidson’s appearance. “That is not the worst thing that could be said,” he told the Times, “But I never said it. It’s not in my vocabulary.”

Such an aside wouldn’t be completely out of character for the candidate, who’s made crude assessments of the looks of women in all parts of his life, including his employees, GOP competitor Carly Fiorina, and his own daughter. (Poor Ivanka, of whom Trump has repeatedly invoked incestuous images, has defended her father by calling him “highly gender-neutral.”) There is a power differential between Davidson’s “pretty” and Trump’s “do a lot of damage.” But Davidson’s chosen means of flattering speaks to the Trump machine as a campaign that rests on belittling attitudes toward women, who are either commended or disparaged based on their sex appeal.