A former employee of the Conservative Political Action Conference is suing the group, alleging racial discrimination and defamation by her former bosses, including the influential organization’s leader, Matt Schlapp.
Regina Bratton, who worked as a communications and marketing supervisor in 2021 and 2022, said in the lawsuit filed in federal court in Virginia on Friday that she was the only African American employee out of about 30 employees, interns and volunteers across CPAC. She claims she faced hostility up and down the chain of command.
CPAC leadership “conspired to and embarked upon a systematic, concerted effort to create a hostile work environment,” the suit alleges. The suit seeks $55 million in damages.
The lawsuit also names as defendants CPAC’s parent organization, the American Conservative Union, and its foundation arm. Schlapp, a prominent ally of former president Donald Trump; Schlapp’s wife and CPAC senior fellow Mercedes Schlapp; and general counsel David Safavian are also listed as defendants.
“The culture at CPAC was terrible, as Matt Schlapp and his wife, Mercedes Schlapp, ran the organization as if they were the King and Queen — like a dictatorship which ignored rules, laws, and basic decency when dealing with employees,” the lawsuit says.
CPAC’s parent organization said Friday that the lawsuit had no merit.
“ACU will vigorously defend against this suit, which was filed by a disgruntled former employee,” the organization said in a statement. “As CPAC continues to expand both in the US and internationally, we will weather these attacks and stay focused on the mission (of) fighting for America and Freedom.”
The lawsuit threatens to compound CPAC’s mounting legal expenses. Earlier this year, Republican operative Carlton Huffman sued Schlapp, accusing him of sexual battery and defamation in a suit seeking $9.4 million in damages. Schlapp has staunchly denied any wrongdoing.
Several veteran board members have quit in recent months while raising concerns about Schlapp’s financial oversight and heavy staff turnover.
Last week, the ACU board’s vice chairman, Charlie Gerow, resigned and urged fellow board members to launch an independent investigation into any additional allegations of sexual misconduct besides those in the lawsuit filed by Huffman earlier this year. Some board members and staffers have been told about other incidents involving Schlapp, 55, and two younger men, The Washington Post has reported.
Matt Smith, a member of the American Conservative Union’s executive committee, issued a statement last week condemning those allegations as “completely fabricated.”
In the latest lawsuit, Bratton alleges a subordinate was repeatedly hostile and defiant toward her and told her that he didn’t like “working with or for women.” Bratton also said that as she tried to hire a diverse group of freelancers, the staffer complained that CPAC was “not an affirmative action employer.”
Bratton said she was under pressure to perform personal tasks for the Schlapps outside of her job description. She was asked to style Mercedes Schlapp’s hair and promote Matt Schlapp’s book, which she says was a personal project, according to the lawsuit.
Bratton said she complained to her bosses about a number of workplace issues and raised concerns about racial bias but was retaliated against. She also claims she was fired for having another job even though she had disclosed to the Schlapps that she was working for a media company that operates as the Washington news bureau of the Chinese government outlet CCTV. Bratton alleges she later learned that the Schlapps and Safavian suggested she was fired for being “an agent for China.”
Another ACU board member, Jim McLaughlin, said in an interview on Thursday, before the latest suit was filed, that he remained confident in Schlapp and CPAC. He noted that the organization had been struggling financially before Schlapp took over in 2014.
“I am a big fan,” he said. “Is everything perfect? No. But I don’t think there has been malfeasance.”
Isaac Arnsdorf contributed to this report.