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The big story in San Diego this month has been the sexual harassment allegations against this city’s mayor. Mayor Bob Filner, 71, serving his first term as mayor after representing California’s 51st district in the U.S. House of Representatives, has come under fire after seven – so far, and increasing seemingly every week – women have come forward with allegations that the mayor had sexually harassed them in the past.

Last week, Filner’s former director of communications filed a lawsuit against the mayor and the city, alleging incidents in which she was groped, kissed and subjected to sexually demeaning comments during work. An additional employee recently filed a complaint with the California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing, indicating that another lawsuit will likely be filed in the near future. Other women have publicly alleged similar claims, indicating that the mayor made inappropriate sexual advances towards them, including unwanted touching and kissing.

According to a new San Diego Union-Tribune/10News poll, 67% of San Diegans want Filner to resign immediately. Even if he does, however, he (and the city) will still have to face the accusers either during settlement or trial.

It’s not only Filner who may be on the hook here. The City of San Diego may also be held liable if Filner’s alleged behavior arose while he was acting within the course and scope of his duties as a public employee. Furthermore, legal payouts would increase significantly if an accuser can prove that the city was aware of the allegations and failed to address them.

The City does not appear to be taking these allegations lightly. In the matter of Filner’s former director of communications, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith has already served Filner with a deposition scheduled for August 9. A city is not required to defend its employees in matters of sexual harassment, and San Diego does not appear to be assuming Filner’s defense in this case. Filner recently retained outside counsel to represent him in this litigation.

The City’s Equal Employment Opportunity Policy defines sexual harassment as a “form of harassment that creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.” Additionally, California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) defines sexual harassment as any type of unwanted and unwelcome behavior or attention of a sexual nature that causes interference in the employee’s life and ability to function at work, home or school. Sexual harassment can arise in the form of quid pro quo (“something for something”), or in a hostile working environment where an employee must endure unwanted comments of a sexual nature, offensive sexual materials or unwelcome physical contact on a regular basis.

Some may be wondering why the accusers did not voice their grievances immediately and why they seem to be coming out all at once rather than as the alleged events occurred. Victims of sexual harassment often cite fear as the main reason why they do not speak out immediately, or at all, against unwelcome sexual behavior and hostile working conditions. Fear of losing one’s job weighs heavily on a victim of sexual harassment because of the incorrectly held bias that their position of power is insignificant compared to that of their employer and any battle waged would be a losing one. Some victims also tend to wait it out and hope that the conduct will eventually stop. Oftentimes it does not, however, and the perpetrator continues his or her repugnant behavior with the same victim and even other victims. Sometimes it takes one brave victim to stand up against an offender to give strength to similarly situated individuals to voice their contentions. That may be what we are seeing here.

The position of mayor comes with great power that can have an intimidating effect. So it is important for victims of sexual harassment to understand that regardless of anyone’s position, every employee in California has a right to a work environment that is free of intimidating, hostile, or offensive conditions.

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