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The women accusing Mayor Bob Filner of habitual sexual harassment now have a public face.
Irene McCormack, Filner’s former communications director, appeared alongside national civil rights attorney Gloria Allred, identifying herself as one of the former employees accusing the mayor of sexual harassment and crude treatment of women.
Until now, Filner had partially defended himself by saying the accusations against him remained anonymous. McCormack put a face to the claims.
McCormack’s decision to come forward Monday answered three key questions that had been swirling around the Filner scandal.
We’ve Got a Process
Filner’s other primary defense was that no civil or criminal actions had yet been taken against him – and that even if they were, he deserves due process.
McCormack has filed a lawsuit in San Diego County Superior Court. The process he’s now due will come through a civil court.
The complaint for damages alleges employment discrimination and sexual harassment. The suit was filed by Allred, whose career is built on high-profile cases like this one.
Allred Is Connected to ‘The Filner Three’
McCormack’s allegations draw a direct line between Allred and the trio of former Filner supporters who demanded the mayor’s resignation almost two weeks ago.
Environmental attorney Marco Gonzalez, land use attorney Cory Briggs and former City Councilwoman Donna Frye said on July 11 they had learned of credible accounts from multiple women of the mayor’s harassing behavior.
Gonzalez said he was representing the women, and that a lawsuit could be forthcoming.
Days later, at a second press conference, he described one of his client’s experiences, in which Filner told a staffer she should stop wearing underwear to work.
On Monday, Allred identified McCormack as that staffer.
McCormack, we now know, was one of Gonzalez’s initial clients. We also know Gonzalez has other clients who’ve yet to come forward. In the coming days, we’ll see whether more women will be willing to make a public stand or join McCormack’s lawsuit.
We also now have a clear picture of Gonzalez, Frye and Briggs’ initial strategy.
They began with a public resignation demand while withholding specific details. Filner met that with an apology and a promise to seek help.
The group attempted to clear the way for the mayor’s exit without putting its clients up for public scrutiny. The mayor refused to resign, and one accuser called his bluff.
McCormack Loomed Large in Allen Jones’ Decision
In late June, Filner’s Deputy Chief of Staff Allen Jones announced he was leaving the mayor’s office.
He said at the time it was due to the mayor’s harsh treatment of his staff, but there was no mention of sexual harassment allegations, and Filner had a well-established reputation as a difficult boss.
Jones’ departure also coincided with more details emerging on a controversial deal he had brokered between the mayor’s office and Sunroad Enterprises. Filner eventually returned the $100,000 donation at the center of the deal, and federal investigators are looking into the arrangement.
McCormack’s lawsuit describes Jones quitting after confronting the mayor for his treatment of McCormack and other female employees who had approached him earlier that week while Filner was in Sacramento.
“We have been friends for 35 years,” Jones told Filner at the onset of a policy meeting, according to the lawsuit. “You need to listen to me. You are running a terrible office. You are treating women in a horrible manner. What you are doing may even be illegal. You need to change your ways. You need extreme therapy.”
Filner challenged Jones, who resigned on the spot, according to the lawsuit. McCormack quit alongside Jones, and later accepted a position as director of communications with the city, outside the mayor’s office. She mentioned in front of the mayor’s then chief of staff, Vince Hall, that Filner had once told her not to wear underwear at work. Hall has since resigned.
If true, that means that not only did Jones leave over the same allegations we’ve been hearing about for two weeks, but that Hall also learned of the situation two weeks before he resigned.
Hall didn’t leave the mayor’s office until a few days after the Filner Three went public, citing his role as a “lifelong activist for women’s rights and equality.”
Liam Dillon contributed to this report.
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