Headlocks of Love: Lessons for Employers

 

​A highly publicized sexual harassment case against San Diego Mayor Bob Filner emphasizes the importance of proper training for all employees. As many as 13 women have alleged that Filner sexually harassed them. While many of the women are constituents, at least two of the purported victims were City employees.

 

Filner’s former communications director, Irene McCormack Jackson, filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the City of San Diego and Filner. McCormack Jackson’s suit alleges Filner repeatedly forced her into a headlock and grabbed and kissed her on several occasions. Filner allegedly told her numerous times that she was beautiful and that he loved her and wanted to marry her. The suit also alleges Filner told McCormack Jackson to “get naked,” that he wanted to “consummate the marriage,” and that it would be great if she “took off [her] panties and worked without them.”

 

In court documents, the City states it maintains a zero-tolerance policy toward sexual harassment and asserts that sexual harassment is not within the course and scope of Filner’s employment. The San Diego City Council voted unanimously to refuse to pay Filner’s legal fees relating to the case. When discussing a countersuit filed by the City against Filner, the city attorney said if a court determines that Filner engaged in illegal conduct and the City is held liable, Filner would “reimburse us every penny the city pays and its attorney fees.”

 

Filner’s attorneys have argued that the City should pay his legal fees in the case, claiming that the harassment training class Filner was to attend was canceled and never rescheduled. California law requires harassment training to be completed within six months of hire or promotion to a supervisory position.

 

Employers may defend some harassment cases by showing they exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct harassment and the alleged harassment victim failed to report the harassment and give the employer an opportunity to stop it. In cases where employers failed to provide training to their employees, courts have repeatedly assessed damages or held employers liable for harassment claims. MSEC members with employees in California can call Employment Law Services for information on satisfying California’s harassment training requirements.