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One woman filed a lawsuit. Two others planned to rely on the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department to investigate the mayor’s alleged inappropriate behavior.
These are just two routes accusers can take as they grapple with how to deal with instances of alleged sexual harassment by Mayor Bob Filner.
Here are the options for women who claim to have been sexually harassed:
Report the allegations to state authorities.
In California, accusers can report sexual harassment by a supervisor or employer to the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing and request an investigation. They must report the alleged misconduct within a year.
The state agency then has up to a year to investigate and determine whether the employer has violated state law. If the department decides an employer or supervisor sexually harassed a staffer, it can file a civil suit but doesn’t have the power to oust the mayor.
As of early Wednesday, a spokesperson for the department said former Filner communications director Irene McCormack and another unidentified person had filed complaints against Filner.
McCormack simply obtained a letter from the department that gives her the right to sue Filner and the city.
In this case, the agency does not investigate or verify the validity of the claim but allows the accuser to move forward with a lawsuit.
Gloria Allred, the attorney representing McCormack, said Monday she obtained this document before filing her lawsuit.
The second accuser, who remains anonymous, requested that the state agency investigate the alleged misbehavior.
The agency’s spokesperson would not provide details about the nature of the latter complaint or who filed it, citing the ongoing investigation.
Only current and former Filner staffers could pursue this option, as the agency only takes cases involving employers.
Report the allegations to federal authorities.
Accusers can also report potential violations to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, though such complaints must be filed within 180 days. The agency determines whether a violation occurred and in some cases, will file a lawsuit.
The agency may attempt to persuade a potential victim to participate in mediation or, if it finds no legal violations, simply provide the person with a letter that gives him or her the right to sue their current or former employer.
It’s not clear whether any accusers have pursued this option. A spokeswoman for the federal agency said Wednesday that its policy is not to share details about complaints or confirm their existence unless it files a lawsuit on an accuser’s behalf.
As we described above, both the state and federal agencies give sexual harassment accusers the option to simply obtain a letter that gives them the right to file a civil suit against their current or former employer.
Depending on the circumstances, the agency may immediately sign a document that allows a potential sexual harassment victim to sue or offer the letter after an investigation is inconclusive or doesn’t establish proof of discrimination or harassment.
Call the police.
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department set up a hotline last week for anyone who wants to report the mayor’s bad behavior. The number is 619-481-0220.
Sheriff Bill Gore has said his agency will handle any investigations that may result.
A sheriff’s spokeswoman said Tuesday that callers have taken advantage of the hotline. She would not elaborate.
Political consultant Laura Fink, who has accused Filner of patting her on the buttocks at a 2005 fundraising dinner, said Tuesday she planned to report that behavior to the Sheriff’s Department.
Children’s advocate Morgan Rose, who accused the mayor of repeatedly trying to kiss her at a 2009 meeting, said she’s already called the sheriff’s hotline.
Prosecutors don’t typically take up sexual harassment cases unless inappropriate touching is involved. In that case, authorities might pursue criminal sexual battery charges.
Standard sexual harassment cases only involve current or former staffers and employers but this approach would be open to any person who claims she had an inappropriate encounter with the mayor.
Report alleged bad behavior to the city.
City staffers have several options to consider if they experience sexual harassment or witness a coworker being victimized.
The city’s Equal Employment Opportunity Policy says workers can report sexual harassment or discrimination to the city’s personnel department, human resources department, department heads or any supervisor, even ones outside their own chain of command.
The city auditor’s fraud and abuse hotline has also received complaints of sexual harassment by city staffers in the past.
In most cases, details are forwarded to personnel department staffers who investigate discrimination or harassment claims. These staffers first determine whether they have the authority to investigate the case and whether a claim appears to be valid. Then they interview city workers and supervisors who may be involved and review related policies. Once their investigation is complete, they discuss their findings with the city’s personnel director and work with other city officials to decide how to proceed.
A staffer could be fired, demoted or given a written reprimand if equal employment opportunity investigators find there’s reason to believe discrimination occurred.
Depending on the result, the accuser or the person suspected of harassment may request a hearing to contest the findings.
Of course, there’s a major complication here. The mayor, unlike most city employees, only reports to voters. He can’t be ousted or even punished if investigators determine he likely sexually harassed staffers.
The city’s personnel staffers can only investigate what happened and make recommendations.
It’s unclear how many city workers have formally accused Filner of sexual harassment. Only one such complaint has been publicized.
Councilman David Alvarez said he contacted Human Resources on July 12 after receiving “first-hand information” that the mayor sexually harassed at least one person. He has not elaborated on the allegations.
A city staffer who investigates equal employment opportunity issues said early Wednesday that the city’s policy is not to divulge details of such complaints.
Other officials in the city auditor’s office, as well as the human resources and personnel departments, did not respond to requests for comment.