Tomorrow, December 15, attorneys for the City of San Diego will update councilmembers and the mayor on one of four unresolved legal cases stemming from former mayor Bob Filner's sexual harassment scandal.
The case to be broached during the closed-session meeting was filed by Filner's former executive assistant, Benelia Santos-Hunter. It will likely be one of the most difficult cases for the city to defend, due to the fact that Santos-Hunter worked in close proximity to Filner on a daily basis and was reportedly subjected to numerous incidents of harassment.
Up until now, three of the seven cases against Filner and the city have settled out of court for a total of $448,000.
However this case is different than most. Santos-Hunter and former Filner communications director Irene McCormack Jackson were the only women to work alongside Filner. Santos-Hunter's desk was feet away from Filner's office and many of the incidents, according to the lawsuit, occurred in Filner's office with the door locked.
It was in his office, says Santos-Hunter, that Filner asked for sex on numerous occasions. He allegedly requested that she pull up her skirt or lay on the conference table. It was also where Filner allegedly kissed Santos-Hunter.
Santos-Hunter's attorney, Josh Gruenberg, says the complaints about the harassment fell on deaf ears.
“Everyone, from Filner’s top deputies on down, knew about the harassment," said Gruenberg during a December 10 phone interview. "Human Resources was aware of it and made no effort to ensure Filner received sexual harassment training. The [Equal Employment Opportunity] office knew of the problem. Everyone knew and they all either looked the other way or assumed that because he was mayor they couldn’t do anything about it."
Gruenberg believes he has all the evidence necessary to prove that Filner subjected Santos-Hunter to a hostile work environment. Evidence includes testimony from someone who witnessed Filner kiss his client against her will.
"Ms. Santos-Hunter reported this to, ironically enough, Irene McCormack-Jackson."
Despite the evidence and the city's willingness to settle other cases, Gruenberg says the city has taken a hard line in defending the former mayor.
“The city’s defense in this case, at least so far, has been that Filner was an equal opportunity harasser, that he didn’t act illegally because he treated everyone poorly. What they don’t address is that while mistreating employees might not be against the law, discriminating, intimidating, or harassing an employee is illegal."
When asked whether the city has attempted to make any settlement offers, Gruenberg said, “The city just hasn’t made a meaningful one yet and I just don’t understand that. My client was harmed more than anyone by Mayor Filner's conduct. She worked closest to him. There were far more incidents between the two. Having to endure that type of harassment day-to-day has hurt her."
According to the superior-court docket, a civil jury trial is expected to begin on January 29.