1 Year Later: How Filner Sexual Harassment Scandal Impacted San Diego
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July 16, 2014 1:11 p.m.
1 Year Later: How Filner Sexual Harassment Scandal Impacted San Diego
Jan Goldsmith, San Diego City Attorney
Wendy Patrick, SDSU Ethics lecturer, attorney
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Our top story on Midday Edition, last year, San Diego was embroiled in one of the biggest stories we have ever seen. More than a dozen women came forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against Mayor Bob Filner. The scandal went national, there were lawsuits, the recall campaign was started, and ultimately Mayor Filner resigned. San Diego got through the political turmoil, but the scandal prompted calls for change in the city charter. It gave a much higher profile to the issue of sexual misconduct in the workplace. I would like to welcome my guests, San Diego city Attorney Jan Goldsmith, welcome to the show.
JAN GOLDSMITH: Pleasure being with you.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Attorney Wendy Patrick also joins us, she is a San Diego State University business ethics lecturer. Wendy, welcome back.
WENDY PATRICK: Hi Maureen.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Jan, you are in the middle of negotiations that resulted in Bob Filner's decision to resign. The city actually took on some obligations to represent the Mayor in his sexual harassment suits. How much did that ultimately cost the city?
JAN GOLDSMITH: We paid Irene McCormick Jackson about $250,000. The expenses that we are paying in the house or with the city attorney office, we still have some cases in which we are defending the city, and we have provided a defense for Mister Filner. The settlement, there were some outside counsel fees that were paid, under $100,000. For so many claims, we actually did pretty well in resolving them, and I think we will have a few others to deal with.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So, this is an ongoing commitment that the city still has. Are you still working with former Mayor Filner?
JAN GOLDSMITH: Yes we are. Our attorneys, and he has separate legal counsel we also work with, I have met with him, my lawyers have met with him, and it has been interesting, and actually we have a good working relationship, that includes me and Bob, we have a good working relationship.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Because you had a contentious relationship when he was mayor?
JAN GOLDSMITH: It was a different Bob Filner, and a different time. Mister Filner has looked inside himself and has gotten help, and a lot of help as he was required to do by the terms of his probation, but I think he is much more of a humble and cooperative person. Had he been like this is Mayor I think he would still be Mayor, but I will tell you a lot of the history of the interaction with the women would have caught up with him in any event.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: If you could estimate for us, how many lawsuits, complaints, what is the legal situation now that the city sees as resulting from Mayor Filner's conduct?
JAN GOLDSMITH: There are two pending lawsuits, another claim, about two additional claims and pending lawsuits that we need to deal with. We are working through them. When this came up over a year ago, memories are painful, but I said we will look at each claim individually. We would not just write checks, but we will compensate people where we feel there is a legal obligation and legitimate injuries, and I feel we have done that.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: One of the reasons the city had to come to an agreement with Mayor Filner is because the city did not have a provision in the charter for the removal of a Mayor from office for reasons other than death or recall. Are we working to change that?
JAN GOLDSMITH: Last fall in November, our office proposed about fifty changes in the charter, that was one of them. We did a review of other cities that have a particularly strong they are, looked at their provisions, and their provisions were if somebody was incapacitated with health and different situations, we have given the city council some options. That is a lot on their plate, and we realize it will take a long period of time, but the charter has not changed. The charter is the same. Any charter amendment has to be presented to the voters, and it will be over several years. I do think that there is a feeling in the community that we should put all of that behind us, and why raise it right now? We are still healing from this, this is a pretty tough and traumatic situation for the victims and for our community. But it is on the table, we have provided some ideas, and it is up to the council.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The county grand jury has also provided ideas about charter change suggestions on how to remove an elected official from office, isn't that right?
JAN GOLDSMITH: Yes they have, and I think that needs to be considered by the council. It really is up to the council. We put a lot on their plate, and the reason for that, if we have a charter that have a lot of holes and problems and is not a well-written document generally, the ideas of our good from the standpoint of a strong mayor, but it needs to be cleaned up and I think it is a multi-year process.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Wendy Patrick, the Filner scandal had people all of the country talking about the issue of sexual harassment. Can you remind us of some of that debate?
WENDY PATRICK: Absolutely. This is an integral component of the business ethics class that I teach. Everybody has to know what it is. We cannot go back to the you know it when you see it, or you know it when you feel it, definition. Part of the debate surrounding this issue globally is when this actually rises to the level of sexual harassment. You get people in the work place that are not lawyers, they know that they are uncomfortable, but sometimes harassers make them feel like they are overly sensitive. We all know that harassment is actually about power, control, and not sex. But part of the debate surrounding this scandal and others like it across the nation, I will call them white collar victims. We have women who are successful, powerful, smart, accomplished, probably not the stereotypical victim. We see this from military to government cases. This is certainly not unique to San Diego. What it really shows is that this is something that pervades all industries, all strata, geographics, demographics, gender, you know it is not just women who complain about sexual harassment. But the debate is the same debate we are having today, a lot of the great work Jan has been doing, and Jan, you have had your hands full, it sounds like, in this past year. All of that provides guidance to other companies that have the same types of things happen in San Diego.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: When it comes down to women being the alleged victims of sexual harassment, I remember last year, especially men commenting on the issue seemed torn. They seem to be able to say the Mayor is a jerk, but we are not going so far as to admit this alleged behavior was anything that terribly serious. Do you think that perception has changed?
WENDY PATRICK: You know, sometimes we call this perception boardroom eyes. You get conduct that is traditionally associated with men, but that women engage in as well. There is still a stigma surrounding the way men report being victims of sexual harassment. Having said that, the EEOC has seen the market increase in the last twenty years of men feeling comfortable reporting, and being encouraged to do so. The steps they do not keep is whether the harassers are men or women. It would be great to know the answer to that, because that would guide some of the discussion we are having surrounding this very emotionally charged ongoing issue.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Have sexual harassment policies in the city been changed, or better enforced since that time?
JAN GOLDSMITH: Actually, they have not been changed. The sexual harassment policies were fine, and comprehensive. We are zero tolerance, and that is the primary reason that the Mayor was removed from office. Frankly, the city did what was right. We did exactly what the policy said we are supposed to do when we see an employee doing that. What has changed, people in the city tend to be nicer to each other. We have learned how important it is to be respectful, and I think people are more aware. I don't think that the rules are the things that will solve the problems of sexual harassment as much as the understanding and respect that people have for other people, and understanding that sexual harassment is a harmful, damaging course of conduct to another person. Even if you think it is okay in the locker room, it is not okay to another human being that will be hurt by it. I think the entire city staff, and hopefully a lot of the community have learned that.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: One of the unanswered questions of the Filner scandal is how Filner's sexual misconduct was not identified by city officials or the HR department, and the whole issue was broken by people outside of City Hall. Have you done any investigating to find out how that happened?
JAN GOLDSMITH: Yes. We will not discuss that, as that was part of the investigation that we conducted last year, if you recall, the memories were harmful to me, but I do remember we did a thorough investigation while he was gone from City Hall, and a little before and after that. We learned a lot, and obviously we kept the city council informed as our client. We cannot get too much into that, but there were people in the office, and in the staff on the sixteenth floor, and those people saw conduct. We asked questions, we got responses, we got a lot, and there was only one who chose not to speak with us.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: In terms of the sexual harassment policy being changed, you said it hasn't, but in light of what you found out in that investigation, have certain people been encouraged to come forward when people see things that are questionable?
JAN GOLDSMITH: Absolutely. Keep in mind, people who are in managerial positions have an obligation to not look the other way. But they have an obligation to report it up the chain. There are no bystanders when it comes to sexual harassment, nor different types of discrimination. You don't have the right as a manager to be a bystander. If you are bystander, you are part of the problem.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Another question I wanted to ask you, during the time the allegations were made, what if your offices first responses was to issue a directive stopping women from meeting alone with the Mayor. Your office took some flack from that, it seemed to restrict women because of the actions of the Mayor. Do you regret that decision?
JAN GOLDSMITH: Not at all. You are combining to request that I made, one to our attorneys, and our personnel. That was in a month of his taking office. You cannot meet with him alone, you need to have two. Mister Filner at the time was very abusive to not just women, but everyone, including me. Throwing things, yelling, accusations, none of that happens in City Hall anymore, that is a huge change. My lawyers and staff are entitled to be treated as professionals, as am I, and I was not going to allow that to happen. That was not limited to women, and that was within the first month. The second was in August, maybe June or July when we were doing the investigation, we learned some things that very much disturbed us, some of which came out. I issued the direction, that he was not to meet with any woman in his office alone, or in any city building alone, that there would always be someone else with him because I had some evidence I was concerned about and our office asked that of the chief of staff and the chief of police to make sure that would happen. Those were two separate requests.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Wendy, we're kind of looking back and looking at the legacy of the scandal that happened last summer. When women make a legal issue of complaints over sexual harassment, when they sue or file charges, they still seem to be targets of criticism. Like they are trying to get rich on these claims. That unfortunately is the legacy of the Filner allegations as well, isn't it?
WENDY PATRICK: I cannot speak to whether or not that is the legacy of that particular case. But I certainly can tell you, and I mentioned the EEOC earlier, the equal opportunity employment commission, they point out statistics and a lot of case studies that illustrate your point. In other words, there are women that are afraid, when not the retaliation ever happens, the fear of being retaliated against. I don't mean specifically by the offender, sometimes it is fear from coworkers. A lot of times, people don't know what happened and they want to give the boss the benefit of the doubt. Whether or not that materializes, it is a big deterrent to a lot of victims reporting claims in the first place. Frankly, that is one of the reasons this continues to be an underreported claim in the workplace. The variety of reasons that the women do not want to come forward, that is probably one of the biggest. Let's face it, in this economy you need your job, not to mention the other reasons which include shame, self blame, embarrassment, and of course there was always that fear of wondering was I too nice? Did I give the wrong impression? Did I do something that makes me responsible for this happening? For all of those reasons, not to mention both the costs of litigation both professionally and personally, these are a lot of the reasons that high-profile cases like this one really have as asking those important questions again.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And high profile cases like this one must also be changing attitudes?
WENDY PATRICK: Absolutely. Whenever you have a case that is focused on a number of women coming forward sequentially, not all at once but obviously there were more than one, there are a lot of places where women and men across the nation feel empowered and encouraged that we as a nation take this seriously, that you should not have to suffer in silence. Even witnesses you see in many cases coming forward and reporting what they see, because no one wants to be part of the workplace where this sort of thing goes on.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Jan Goldsmith, from what you said, it seems that your take on this is that the city has come out of this quite well. I wondering, as you look back, is there anything that the city would do differently?
JAN GOLDSMITH: Well, I do believe it would've been helpful for our office to know earlier than June what was happening on the sexual harassment. We didn't know that he was very aggressive, abusive, yelling and throwing things. That would have been helpful. There were some people who probably should have reported up the chain. I think that is important, that goes in line with what Wendy just said. The reason there is an obligation to report it up the chain is the reluctance of victims to speak out. Yet you cannot allow that to continue because it is like a virus. Once it is allowed it becomes infectious. That would have been nice to know. We did the best that we could. I don't like the fact that the council and my office had to have a plan to remove him from office. But we decided that, and the council was with us, and we did it because we had to prevent further acts of harassment, I have never said I loved that. I am glad today that we have a normal attorney-client relationship. We have a Mayor who at least listens to us, our legal advice, and our counsel. We have a good working relationship, we let them policy, and we do law, and I think the city is better for it. Last year it was a different environment, and it was really toxic, and I think we came out of it really well. Not only for ourselves, we took care of the problem, but nationally. The same media people who came out to San Diego and were snickering and telling jokes about San Diego, I did have a chance to speak with some of them afterwards. They said that San Diego did well, and they agreed, the rest of the country could look at us as a way. We solve the problem, and it was pretty messy, I did not like it at the time, but we did what we had to and we were better for it.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I have to end it there. Thank you both very much.