Sexual harassment lawsuit filed against San Diego, Filner

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – The first woman to step forward publicly with sexual harassment complaints about San Diego Mayor Bob Filner announced Monday she has filed a lawsuit against him and the city.

The complaint was filed in San Diego Superior Court on behalf of Irene McCormack Jackson, who was until recently was Filner's director of communications.

McCormack would have turned and ran the other way if she knew what she was getting into before she took the job in January, according to her Los Angeles-based attorney, Gloria Allred, who is known for handling high-profile women's rights cases.

“Irene soon learned that what she was really getting into when she accepted the position as communications director was that in order to do her job … she would have to endure the `Filner headlock' while he made degrading and humiliating sexual comments to her,” Allred said.

“She also learned that her job required her to suffer Mayor Filner telling her that she should work without her panties on, that he wanted to see her naked, that he could not wait to consummate their relationship, and that he wanted to marry her,” Allred said.

Filner also demanded kisses and dragged McCormack along in a headlock while making sexual remarks, her attorney alleged.

In a late-afternoon statement, Filner said he was “saddened by the charges that were leveled against me today.”

“Once due process is allowed to unfold, I am certain there will be a better understanding of this situation,” Filner said.

“I remain committed to the people of San Diego and the work that needs to be done. My dreams and plans for moving this city to new heights are continuing. I humbly ask that through this vicious storm of controversy, people take a moment and temper their rush to judgment.

“I do not believe these claims are valid. This is why due process is so important. I intend to defend myself vigorously and I know that justice will prevail.”

McCormack, a former longtime San Diego journalist, said being introduced as part of Filner's administration was one of the proudest days of her career. She said she gave up a position as vice president with the Port of San Diego, and accepted a $50,000 pay cut, so she could join what she thought would be a progressive administration.

“However, the past six months turned out to be the worst time of my entire working life,” McCormack said. “I had to work and do my job in an atmosphere where women were viewed by Mayor Filner as sexual objects or stupid idiots. I saw him place his hands where they did not belong on numerous women.”

McCormack said she did not have a relationship with Filner outside work, nor did she want one.

“His behavior made me feel ashamed, frightened and violated,” McCormack said. “I wanted to keep what I experienced hidden and compartmentalized. I felt that I could tough it out.”

The recent resignation Deputy Chief of Staff Allen Jones was the turning point for her, according to McCormack, who remains a communications director for the city but has transferred out of the mayor's office.

“I knew then that Mayor Filner would not change,” she said. “He refused to listen to someone who he had known for 35 years and who told him explicitly during a senior staff meeting that his behavior with women was terrible and possibly illegal. Mayor Filner laughed it off.”

The sexual harassment allegations were first aired publicly 10 days ago by former Councilwoman Donna Frye and lawyers Cory Briggs and Marcos Gonzalez, who said the alleged victims were two constituents and a city employee but did not publicly identify them.

Filner initially apologized and admitted that he had a problem. More recently, however, he has demanded an investigation and his due process rights.

“He is not fit to be mayor of our great city,” McCormack said. “He is not fit to hold any public office.”

Numerous area office-holders and civic leaders have called on him to resign. However, three women on the City Council, Myrtle Cole, Marti Emerald and Sherri Lightner, have not joined the chorus of those asking the mayor to step down.

A spokeswoman for Emerald said the councilwoman would not comment. Messages left with Cole's and Lightner's offices were not returned.

The lawsuit does not specify damages. Allred says they will ask for what is supported by evidence that eventually comes out.

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said his office will defend the city, while Filner is represented by lawyer Harvey Berger.

Filner will be able to ask the City Council to reimburse his personal legal expenses. On the other hand, the city can file a cross-complaint seeking reimbursement from Filner if the municipal government has to pay damages when the lawsuit is resolved, Goldsmith said.

The city has taken some temporary steps in response to the allegations, Goldsmith said.

“Arising from that, and at my request, the mayor is not to meet with women alone at city facilities,” Goldsmith said. “That was agreed to by his lawyer, and it is being enforced by the chief of staff, deputy chief of staff. The chief of police is also aware of that and has made certain commitments.”

Goldsmith said employees have been notified about their rights and given telephone numbers to seek help, if necessary.

Goldsmith said the steps do not imply culpability on anyone's part. The mayor's office has cooperated with the restrictions, he said.

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