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Former San Diego mayor was 'creepy,' but woman didn't feel harassed, co-worker testifies

Stacy McKenzie, who is suing former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner for sexual harassment, told a fellow city worker in July 2013 that she wasn't surprised when allegations surfaced about the mayor's inappropriate conduct because of an interaction she'd had with him, the co-worker testified on Monday.

The colleague, Kathryn Ruiz, said she had just finished listening to a news conference on the radio in which a former councilwoman and two attorneys called for Filner to resign after they had heard "credible evidence" of the mayor's harassing behavior.

That's when McKenzie, who works in the city's parks and recreation department, described an incident a few months earlier in which she introduced herself to the mayor at a park event. She said he asked her on a date and later touched her breast and buttocks, Ruiz recalled.

Ruiz testified in San Diego County Superior Court that McKenzie told her that the incident "didn't make her angry or scared" and that Filner had just acted like "a stupid guy."

"She didn't feel that it was that big of an ordeal, but she wanted me to know about it," said Ruiz, who said she did human resources work throughout most of her 28 years with the city.

She said McKenzie told her that she didn't feel harassed or intimidated by Filner, who would resign in August of that year, but that the incident was just "creepy."

Ruiz was among the first witnesses called to testify by lawyers representing the city and the former mayor in a civil trial that began last week.

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McKenzie contends Filner sexually touched and harassed her at an event on April 21, 2013. She says the then-mayor approached her from behind, hooked his arm around her neck and rubbed her breast with his elbow in the presence of two of her subordinates.

Filner testified last week that he did not remember the incident, nor did he recall meeting McKenzie.

As for the conduct she described, Filner said, "There are certain things I would never do."

Attorneys defending Filner and the city began calling witnesses Monday after McKenzie's lawyers rested their case.

But before that could happen, Filner was called back to the witness stand briefly to answer questions about language in the city charter and whether he had the authority to hire and fire city employees who worked outside his office.

Some of the testimony has focused on whether Filner intimidated city workers, perhaps to the point that they feared confronting him about allegations of inappropriate behavior with women.

Filner testified Monday that under the city charter, powers once held by the city manager — including appointment and removal of some employees — were transferred to the mayor under a strong-mayor form of government. He said he also understood that staffers in the mayor's office — which did not include McKenzie — were at-will employees, subject to hiring and firing by the mayor without regard to civil service codes.

Ruiz testified she believed the April 2013 incident McKenzie described was serious and needed to be reported formally to human resources or an outside agency.

Another co-worker, Daniel Daneri, testified McKenzie told him about the encounter with Filner. He said that McKenzie seemed as though she was "a little creeped out by it or something," but that they were able to joke about it.

He said he didn't think the incident sounded like sexual harassment.


Twitter: @danalittlefield

Littlefield writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on March 29, 2016, in the News section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Encounter with Filner was `creepy' - A co-worker testifies plaintiff recounted being touched but didn't feel harassed." — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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