The nation's eighth largest city will pay $250,000 to a woman who was the first to go public with sexual harassment allegations against former Mayor Bob Filner, San Diego's city attorney announced Monday, one day before voters return to the polls to elect a new leader.
The settlement ends a lawsuit filed by Filner's former communications director, Irene McCormack Jackson, but harassment suits by two more women are pending.
McCormack was the first of 18 women to go public with harassment allegations last year against the disgraced mayor, who stepped down Aug. 30 amid the scandal. She claimed that Filner asked her to work without panties, demanded kisses, told her he wanted to see her naked and dragged her in a headlock while whispering in her ear. Other accusers included a retired Navy rear admiral, a San Diego State University dean and a great-grandmother.
The City Council approved the settlement Monday and McCormack will be paid one lump sum, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said. He said the settlement was the best ending to a case that was scheduled to go to trial next year.
In exchange for Filner's resignation, the city agreed to pay the 71-year-old's legal fees in a joint defense of the lawsuit. California law holds cities liable for the sexual harassment misconduct of a supervisor directed at a city employee, including recovery of attorney fees and any lost income. McCormack's claim was based on “continuous conduct over a six-month period,” Goldsmith said.
“This settlement avoids a year of intense and expensive litigation that probably would have cost the parties more than this settlement amount and would have been grueling for all parties,” Goldsmith said.
He called McCormack “courageous” for coming forward and said the settlement is “a big step toward putting this behind our community.”
“This was a very difficult situation for her, and she handled it with dignity,” Goldsmith said of McCormack. “We wish her well.”
Goldsmith said Filner signed off on the agreement.
McCormack, who is still a city employee, plans to resign April 1. She could not be immediately reached for comment. Her lawyer, Gloria Allred, scheduled a news conference Tuesday to discuss the settlement and declined to comment before then.
Political analyst Carl Luna said one of the biggest scandals to rock the city seems to be ending surprisingly quickly.
“This is one of those cases that began with a bang and ended with a whimper,” he said, noting that the amount was considerably less than many expected. “It brought down a mayor but didn't bankrupt the city.”
None of the money for the settlement will come out of Filner's pocket. The former 10-term congressman pleaded guilty in October to one felony count of false imprisonment and two misdemeanor counts of battery and began a three-month sentence of home confinement Jan. 1.
The felony, according to the probation report, was for putting a woman in a headlock after a dinner party March 6 and attempting to kiss her on the lips. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for kissing a woman on the lips without permission at a “Meet the Mayor” event on April 6, and the other misdemeanor involved grabbing another woman's buttocks at a May 25 rally. None of the three victims was identified.
There was no admission of liability under the settlement reached with McCormack.
Filner was elected in 2012 as the city's first Democratic leader in 20 years. Voters return to the polls Tuesday to elect his replacement.
Republican Kevin Faulconer, a city councilman, is running in a tight race against Democrat David Alvarez, also a councilman. Both candidates have scarcely mentioned Filner since campaigning to replace him.