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Jury finds ex-San Diego Mayor Bob Filner harassed female worker but awards no damages

A San Diego jury said that former Mayor Bob Filner had harassed a longtime city parks employee because of her gender, but found the harassment was neither serious nor pervasive.
A San Diego jury said that former Mayor Bob Filner had harassed a longtime city parks employee because of her gender, but found the harassment was neither serious nor pervasive.
(John Gibbons / San Diego Union-Tribune)

After deliberating for a little more than two hours, a San Diego jury said Wednesday that former Mayor Bob Filner had harassed a longtime city parks employee because of her gender, but found the harassment was neither serious nor pervasive.

The San Diego Superior Court jury also determined that no sexual battery occurred during the April 2013 incident, in which Stacy McKenzie claimed the then-mayor touched her breast and buttocks during an event at a Mission Bay park.

McKenzie, 52, was not awarded damages.

Her lawyer, Dan Gilleon, had argued that McKenzie felt physically threatened when she met the mayor at a weekend event. It was a feeling, Gilleon said, that interfered with McKenzie’s work long afterward.

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“This case is about abuse of power,” he told the jury during closing arguments.

But lawyers for Filner and the city argued that McKenzie had failed to show she suffered ongoing harm as a result of her encounter with the mayor.

Filner, 73, a former 10-term congressman, stepped down as mayor after more than a dozen women came forward during the summer of 2013 with allegations of sexual harassment. He pleaded guilty in October of that year to felony false imprisonment and two counts of misdemeanor battery for incidents involving three women.

Outside court, City Atty. Jan Goldsmith said his office reviewed each of the cases that arose out of the scandal and worked to settle those in which he and his deputies thought there was evidence of sexual harassment. The city and Filner have paid more than $1 million to settle five of seven lawsuits.

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Goldsmith said there were two cases, both represented by Gilleon, that officials believed did not include facts that rose to the level of “legal sexual harassment for which you get money.” McKenzie’s was one of them; the other is still pending.

According to her testimony in the civil trial, McKenzie approached Filner at the April 21, 2013, event, intending to introduce herself to the newly elected mayor. She said Filner asked her out to lunch and made it clear, while grabbing her wrists, that the invitation was for a date.

Moments later, as McKenzie recounted what had happened to her to a couple of co-workers, the mayor came up behind her and hooked his arm around her neck. While stroking McKenzie’s left arm with one hand, Filner let his other arm drop to her chest, brushing or grazing her breast, she said.

“I felt violated,” she testified last week.

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Gilleon told the jury that McKenzie avoided answering calls in her office for months after the incident. A single mother, she feared losing her job and the possibility of not being able to provide for her two children.

The attorney asked for damages of $170,800 or more for medical expenses, as well as past and future mental and emotional distress.

But the city’s lawyers said McKenzie joked about the incident in emails with a co-worker. When she reported the incident to a human resources representative in July 2013, the city responded appropriately, the lawyers said.

“There was nothing in that office that was hostile or abusive toward Ms. McKenzie,” Deputy City Atty. George Schaefer said in his closing argument.

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dana.littlefield@sduniontribune.com

Twitter: @danalittlefield

Littlefield writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.


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