1 year after filing suit, Filner accuser looks back at harassment scandal
SAN DIEGO — One year to the day after she filed a lawsuit accusing former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner of sexual harassment, Irene McCormack Jackson said Tuesday she began to see signs of strange behavior from the moment he took office.
Interviewed on the KPBS radio’s “Midday Edition” program, Filner’s former communications director said he kissed her after he was sworn in as mayor, which was soon followed by other forms of misbehavior that cost him his job nine months later.
“I watched the way he treated the office staff, not just the women, but the men, as well — screaming and yelling at them, telling them they were incompetent, stupid,” McCormack Jackson said. “It was an office that people hated being in, but because it was the office of the mayor, everybody kept working really hard to make sure it worked, that it functioned, that things were getting done for the city. So I knew it was bad from the beginning.”
She said she had heard of Filner’s reputation as being difficult to work for, but didn’t realize that he would be such a bully. She said the staff always felt like they might be yelled at, and that people sometimes went home crying.
McCormack Jackson said she declined to file a complaint with the city’s Human Resources Department, because Filner read such reports. She also feared looking for another job because she thought he would “torpedo” her efforts if he found out about them.
She decided to leave after two young women the same age as her daughters left separate encounters with Filner in May 2013 looking “surprised,” she said.
On July 22 last year, Los Angeles women’s rights lawyer Gloria Allred filed a lawsuit on McCormack Jackson’s behalf, charging that Filner told her she should work without her panties on, placed her in a headlock and led her around while making suggestive remarks, among other things. The lawsuit was eventually settled for $250,000.
Filner, facing similar accusations by around 20 women and under investigation for alleged financial improprieties, resigned Aug. 30 last year. He is serving three years probation and spent three months confined to his home after pleading guilty to one felony count of false imprisonment and two misdemeanor counts of battery.
“I’m glad he’s out of public office,” McCormack Jackson said. “He did not deserve to be there.”
The Filner episode led city officials to explore City Charter revisions that would make it easier to remove an elected official, if necessary. Any proposed amendments would be voted on by residents in 2016. McCormack Jackson said she supported the efforts.
At the time of the news conference last year, reporters and the public knew that sexual harassment allegations had been made against the then-mayor, but didn’t know who was leveling the accusations.
“We were walking in through the back door, and I turned around to walk away, and (Allred) pulled me in, and all I heard was people saying, `It’s Irene, it’s Irene,”’ said McCormack Jackson, who added that she was “very nervous and quite nauseous.”
She said it was difficult to talk about Filner’s comments, but she went through with it because she knew he was doing the same to other women.
“The women who went public after me took a huge risk to do so, and I’m forever grateful for what they did, because he had no remorse even when I went public,” McCormack Jackson said. “But I think he understood what was happening after more than 20 other women said the same exact thing I said.”
She said she was grateful but overwhelmed by the subsequent support she received, and withdrew from public view for awhile while suffering from migraine headaches.
McCormack Jackson, who said she has not heard from Filner since she started the litigation, told the station that she is doing “really well now” and is writing a book to help other women who find themselves in the same predicament.