The San Diego City Council unanimously voted to approve a settlement agreement between now former Mayor Bob Filner and the City. As part of the settlement, Filner resigned effective August 30, 2013. The settlement is the outcome of mediation talks between Filner, his attorneys, and City Attorney Jan Goldsmith. The City had previously joined in the lawsuit brought by Filner’s accuser, Irene McCormack Jackson. McCormack Jackson did not participate in the mediation. The San Diego City Council previously voted unanimously to refuse to pay Filner’s legal fees related to his defense of sexual harassment claims. However, the settlement agreement calls for the City to pay up to $98,000 in defending claims related to Filner’s position as mayor, but specifically excludes punitive damages if awarded. The City has also agreed to drop its cross-complaint against Filner.
The alleged sexual harassment by Filner was egregious. As was previously reported in Hot Topics on August 19, the suit alleges non-consensual sexual advances, touching, grabbing, and remarks of a sexual nature by the former mayor.
The lessons to be learned from the settlement are two-fold:
First, employers need to ensure they are providing adequate and timely sexual harassment prevention training to supervisors and managers. Employers with employees in California are required by state law to provide appropriate training within six months of hire or promotion to a supervisory position. If the settlement is any indication, Mr. Filner’s attorneys successfully argued that the City should pay his legal fees because the harassment training class that Filner was scheduled to attend had been canceled and never rescheduled.
Second, employers can defend themselves against harassment claims when they can show that reasonable measures were taken to prevent and correct harassment, and the alleged harassment victim has failed to report the harassment and give the employer an opportunity to stop it. According to the allegations in McCormack Jackson’s lawsuit, which 17 other female employees and independent contractors joined, there was evidence that the City knew or should have known about Filner’s alleged egregious conduct and did not act promptly to correct it.
The settlement is yet another example of an employer assuming the risks associated with failed harassment prevention.