Former employee Irene McCormack Jackson files sexual harassment lawsuit against Mayor Bob Filner

Filner: 'I do not believe these claims are valid'

SAN DIEGO - San Diego Mayor Bob Filner issued a statement early Monday evening in response to the lawsuit filed against him by his former communications director Irene McCormack Jackson.

"I am 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.

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. That is why due process is so important. I intend to defend myself vigorously and I know that justice will prevail."

Click for a PDF version of the statement

McCormack became the first woman to publicly come forward with sexual harassment claims against Filner. She appeared with civil rights attorney Gloria Allred, but did not answer any questions at a Monday morning news conference.

Click to view the lawsuit

However, she did make a statement.

"I was placed in the Filner headlock as he whispered sexual comments in my ear," McCormack said.

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

She said being introduced as part of Filner's administration was initially one of the proudest days of her career.

"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 gave up a position as vice president with the Port of San Diego, and accepted a $50,000 pay cut, so she could join a progressive administration.

The turning point, McCormack said, was when the mayor called police to kick City Attorney Andrew Jones out of a closed meeting.

McCormack said Filner "thought that it was acceptable behavior to regularly make sexual comments that were crude and disgusting." She also said, "His behavior made me feel ashamed, frightened and violated."

Allred said Filner told McCormack she should "work without her panties on" and "could not wait to consummate their relationship."

Allred also said Filner tried to kiss McCormack more than once.

Allred said McCormack would have run away before she took the job in January if she knew what awaited her.

"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 was that she would have to endure the 'Filner headlock' while he made degrading and humiliating sexual comments to her," Allred said.

Allred said a lawsuit was filed in San Diego Superior Court Monday on behalf of McCormack.

McCormack is seeking damages, and Allred said the amount would come out in court based on what her client endured.

"Not only to Irene, but many women," Allred said.

"It is time for him to take responsibility," for what he's done, McCormack said.

Numerous area office-holders and civic leaders have called on him to resign. But 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. City News Services' messages left with Cole's and Lightner's offices were not returned.

Other women have come forward to Team 10 in previous weeks, but only on the condition of anonymity.

Sexual harassment allegations first surfaced against Filner earlier this month at the first news conference held by his former supporters, who asked him to resign.

Those allegations came after other controversial issues, including Filner calling police to remove a city attorney from a closed meeting, a developer's donation and a trip to Paris.

Before Monday's news conference with Allred, Filner has said he is innocent of any sexual harassment claims. But in a DVD released to the media, Filner did apologize for what he called inappropriate behavior.

Filner has refused to sit down with Team 10 for a wide-ranging interview on all of these issues, despite repeated requests through his spokeswoman Lena Lewis.

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

"Our office does not represent Mayor Bob Filner in this matter in any capacity. He is represented by attorney Harvey Berger, who is retained at Mayor Filner's personal expense. The city is not permitted at this time to reimburse Mr. Filner or pay Mr. Berger's expense," said Goldsmith.

The mayor at some point 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, he 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.

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

Goldsmith officially recused his office of any criminal complaint that may come up in the future against Filner.

Former city councilman Carl DeMaio, who lost in his mayoral bid against Filner last year, issued the following statement:

"I am so saddened that Irene was subjected to this demeaning and disrespectful behavior, and I admire Irene's courage and integrity in speaking out.

I have confidence that San Diegans will stand with Irene and support her during this painful time. As for Bob Filner, the only way he can show his support for Irene and our entire city is to do as she has asked and resign."


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