Alleging Sexual Harassment, San Diego Mayor’s Accuser Goes Public
SAN DIEGO (CBS/AP) — Mayor Bob Filner’s former communications director filed a sexual harassment lawsuit on Monday against the leader of the nation’s eighth-largest city, alleging he asked her to work without panties, demanded kisses and dragged her around in a headlock while whispering sexual advances.
Irene McCormack Jackson offered lurid details in the lawsuit that made her the first person to publicly identify herself as a target of the mayor’s advances since some of Filner’s most prominent former supporters said nearly two weeks ago that he sexually harassed women and demanded that he resign.
McCormack, as she is known professionally, said at a news conference that she took a $50,000-a-year pay cut while accepting the job in January — two months after Filner was elected to a four-year term as the city’s first Democratic leader in 20 years after he spent 10 terms in Congress.
“I had to work and do my job in an atmosphere where women were viewed by Mayor Filner as sexual objects or stupid idiots,” McCormack said at a press conference. She was accompanied by her attorney Gloria Allred, one of the most widely known civil rights attorneys in the country.
“I was placed in the ‘Filner headlock’ and moved around as a rag doll while he whispered sexual comments in my ear,” she said.
McCormack also alleges in the lawsuit that the mayor declared his love for her and asked her to marry him. The 70-year-old divorcee was engaged at the time to Bronwyn Ingram, who announced this month that she ended the relationship.
The lawsuit filed in San Diego Superior Court says McCormack resigned after a heated exchange between the mayor and Allen Jones, his deputy chief of staff, at a meeting that she attended. Jones told his boss that he needed “extreme therapy.”
“You are treating women in a horrible manner. What you are doing may even be illegal. You need to change your ways,” Jones is quoted saying.
McCormack agreed that the mayor was “horrible” and began to leave the meeting before Filner challenged her to give an example.
“How about when you said that I should take my panties off and work without them,” she replied, according to the lawsuit, which also names the city as a defendant and seeks unspecified damages.
After the meeting, an unnamed Filner “emissary” told McCormack that the mayor acknowledged behaving despicably toward women, according to the lawsuit. Filner offered her a job as communications manager for city operations that reported to someone else — a job she still holds.
Lena Lewis, a spokeswoman for Filner, did not immediately reply to a phone call or email seeking comment. The mayor previously rejected calls that he resign. He hasn’t addressed specific allegations, other than to say he didn’t believe he was guilty of sexual harassment.
Filner apologized earlier this month for disrespecting and sometimes intimidating women in an extraordinary video released immediately after the initial allegations surfaced. He said, “I need help,” and that he would be unable to lead San Diego if his behavior didn’t change.
In an interview with CBS2’s sister station CBS8 in San Diego, Mayor Filner said “If I’ve offended people, I apologize.”
Allred angrily denounced the mayor’s promises to get help for his problems. “Do you need help in order to know that it is inappropriate to place women in headlocks while making vile and disgusting sexual comments to them?” she asked.
On Friday, Filner welcomed the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department’s decision to open a hotline to take calls from any possible victims of his misconduct, saying “some of these allegations will finally be addressed by an appropriate investigative authority rather than by press conference and innuendo.”
The San Diego County district attorney’s office said it would not be part of the Sheriff’s Department investigation and that the California attorney general’s office would review the findings to determine whether the mayor should be prosecuted.
City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, whose office prosecutes misdemeanors and represents the city in civil lawsuits, said Monday that his office wouldn’t participate in any criminal investigation. But the city attorney announced new steps to protect city employees and the taxpayers from the mayor.
“The mayor is not permitted to meet with women alone in city facilities,” said Goldsmith. “That was agreed to with his lawyer.”
A growing chorus of city officials are saying that such precautions are not enough. For the good of the city he claims to love, many say Filner must resign.
“We cannot efficiently and effectively run America’s finest city with this mayor in office,” said Council President Todd Gloria. “Any progress made in the coming weeks and months will be done not because of him but in spite of him.”