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Filner's attorney contradicted about sexual harassment training

August 01, 2013|By Tony Perry
  • San Diego Mayor Bob Filner apologizes for his behavior in this frame from a video produced by the city. "I need help," he said.
San Diego Mayor Bob Filner apologizes for his behavior in this frame from… (Anonymous / AP )

An assertion by his attorney that San Diego Mayor Bob Filner did not receive sexual harassment training because a city trainer canceled the session was contradicted Thursday by a former staffer for Filner and by former Mayor Jerry Sanders.

Jay Goldstone, who served as the interim chief operating officer from December to March, said it was Filner's office, not a city trainer, that canceled a briefing session about the city's sexual harassment rules and training. Goldstone had worked for Sanders and agreed to remain for several months to provide continuity.

Sanders said that even without a briefing Filner could have easily taken the training, which is a two-hour online course. "All you do is close your door and take the course," Sanders said. "You can do it at 10 p.m. if you want."

Sanders said he took the course within six months of becoming mayor in December 2005 and then took a refresher course two years later, as required by the city's rules for management employees.

In his letter to the city attorney Monday, Filner's attorney, Harvey Berger, said that the city may be liable for damages from a sexual harassment lawsuit because the 70-year-old Democrat never took the sexual harassment training.

"The city has a legal obligation to provide sexual harassment training to all management level employees," Berger wrote in a letter requesting the city pay Filner's legal bills in defense of the lawsuit filed by his former communications director.

The City Council on Tuesday night voted 9 to 0 not to pay Filner's bills.

Filner may have not known what constitutes sexual harassment, Berger wrote. In Filner's 10 terms in Congress, he never received any training, he said.

In his letter, Berger said that the mayor, before the allegations against him went public, was scheduled to take the training "but the trainer for the city unilaterally cancelled and never re-scheduled for the mayor (and others). Therefore, if there is any liability at all, the city will almost certainly be liable for 'failing to prevent harassment' " under state law.

Berger said that while "having conducted sexual harassment training scores of times over the years, I have learned that many -- if not most -- people do not know what is and what is not illegal sexual harassment under California law."

On the issue of potential damages, Berger wrote, "The city may be strictly liable for any sexual harassment by a supervisor, even if it had no reason to know of it. So, of course, the city should have a strong interest in making certain that Mayor Filner has the resources to defend himself."

Refusal to help Filner pay his bills in the suit filed by Irene McCormack Jackson, Berger wrote, "will be a political, not a rational decision."

Berger noted that Filner has denied he committed sexual harassment. Jackson asserts Filner often put her in a headlock, made sexually suggestive comments and once asked her to work without panties.

After three former supporters called on Filner to resign three weeks ago, Filner's office distributed a video in which Filner admitted bad behavior toward women and promised to take the city's sexual harassment training, as well as apologize to any women that he has offended.

Along with Jackson's lawsuit, seven other women, in interviews, have also accused Filner of sexual misconduct.

But in his letter, Berger said that it is "highly unlikely that any of these witnesses" will be allowed to testify in the Jackson case because they were not city employees and thus the incidents, if true, could not be sexual harassment.

Filner took the training course after three supporters demanded his resignation due to allegations of sexual harassment.

Filner has refused demands to resign. He has apologized for treating women disrespectfully and announced he will enter a two-week behavorial therapy program, starting Monday.


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