City worker testifies she was harassed, placed in 'chokehold' by ex-San Diego mayor

It happened in April 2013, at an event held at a park near Mission Bay.

When city employee Stacy McKenzie learned that the newly elected mayor, Bob Filner, was in attendance, she decided to introduce herself. That led to what she described in court Tuesday as two “uncomfortable” encounters with Filner, who later resigned from his position amid a flurry of sexual harassment accusations.

McKenzie told a San Diego jury that shortly after she introduced herself, Filner asked her on a date, which she found disturbing. Moments later, after she moved away from him, the mayor approached her from behind and put her in a “chokehold,” she said.

He pressed his body against hers, she said, and stroked her left arm.

“He said, ‘Isn’t she great? Isn’t she great,’” McKenzie said during a civil trial in San Diego Superior Court. She said Filner told two coworkers who were standing with her, “I’m going to be mentoring her. I’m going to make her employee of the day. What do you think?”

At one point, the mayor let his arm — the one that had been hooked around her neck — drop slowly, so that his elbow rubbed one of her breasts, McKenzie testified. The mayor noticed when her face began to turn red, and she told him he was embarrassing her.

“He laughed; he thought it was funny,” she said. “I felt violated. I felt really small and insignificant.”

McKenzie, who has worked for 35 years as a district manager in the city  parks department, filed the lawsuit against Filner, 73, more than two years ago, alleging sexual battery and sexual harassment in the workplace. She is also accusing the city of San Diego of failing to prevent the harassment.

Her lawyer, Manuel Corrales Jr., told the jury in his opening statement that the evidence will show that Filner had an abusive management style and that he could do misbehave with impunity as mayor. Corrales said the city had an obligation to do something when they were told that Filner was acting inappropriately.

“They failed to stop him,” he said.

Attorney George Schaefer, who represents the city and the former mayor, acknowledged that Filner’s behavior in the park with McKenzie was unprofessional — even “creepy,” as the plaintiff had described it — but he disputed whether Filner actually touched her breast.

“This is a straightforward case,” Schaefer said, adding that the evidence would call into question whether Filner’s behavior rose to the level of sexual battery and sexual harassment in the workplace under state law.

Littlefield writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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