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Filner got no sex harassment training; is city liable for legal tab?

Sexual MisconductLaws and LegislationCrime, Law and JusticeAbusive BehaviorLocal GovernmentJustice System

Mayor Bob Filner's attorney said the city of San Diego should pay his legal fees in a sexual misconduct case because the mayor never received required sexual harassment training.

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

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

The request has outraged many in San Diego and beyond.

In tweets and comments to the Los Angeles Times, many expressed anger at the suggestion that not having sexual harassment training is a defense against his alleged behavior, which includes groping women, forcibly kissing them and making suggestive comments. 

"His parents probably did teach him but, as a grown person, chose to do otherwise. Let him responsible for his own actions," @svnmylz tweeted. 

"That is the most ridiculous argument I have heard. You're old enough to know what it is," tweeted @sansregarde.

Another reader, @ceemarie33, tweeted: "maybe his parents should pay then. They didn't give him common sense training."

Berger's request came as the City Council on Tuesday night voted, 9-0, not to pay Filner's bills. Earlier in the day it also voted unanimously to sue Filner to recover any damages the city might have to pay in the case, which seeks an unspecified amount from Filner and the city.

Berger said in his letter that sexual harassment law is complex.

In his letter, 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."

Berger said that the mayor was scheduled to take the training, but it was canceled and never rescheduled.

"Therefore, if there is any liability at all, the city will almost certainly be liable for 'failing to prevent harassment' " under state law, the letter stated.

Filner has denied he committed sexual harassment. He has admitted to bad behavior toward women and issued an apology to his colleagues, San Diego residents and women he has offended. He announced last week that he would attend two weeks of intensive therapy.

So far, eight women have publicly accused Filner of sexual misconduct. His former communications director, Irene McCormack Jackson, has filed a lawsuit.

Filner has refused repeated requests to resign. 

In turning down the mayor's request for the city to pay his legal bills, Councilman Kevin Faulconer said that Filner "abused his power to intimidate and engage in inappropriate contact with women. I will not condone Filner's behavior by authorizing taxpayers to pay for his legal defense."

What do you think? Should the city be on the hook for Filner's defense? Do you agree with Berger's argument that San Diego may be liable because the mayor did not receive mandated sexual harassment training? Weigh in by commenting, or tweet your reaction to @lanow.

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Twitter: @LATSanDiego

tony.perry@latimes.com 

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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