The law of the workplace is complex, said Bob Filner's attorney, and my client never received the proper training in how to navigate its treacherous waters. And that is why the City of San Diego, which employed him, should pay the legal bills Mr. Filner has been forced to incur as a result of him harassing all those women.
Filner's attorney was writing to the city council, which nonetheless voted unanimously last week not to pay the mayor's legal bills resulting from harassment allegations first made in a lawsuit by a former aide. To date, more than a dozen other women have also alleged that Filner harassed them in one way or another, although that number may have gone up since I started typing this sentence.
More allegations seem to surface daily. Yesterday, two military veterans appeared on CNN to accuse Filner of harassment, or at least of thoroughly creeping them out, saying—and this would be remarkably bad if true—that he made advances toward them at an event for military victims of sexual abuse (which both women were). That wouldn't be "harassment" technically, because those women didn't work for Filner, but it would corroborate the accusations being made by women who did. And it could be assault, and it is beyond creepy.
This report quotes a former San Diego mayor and police chief as saying that a hotline set up to take calls from those claiming to have been harassed or assaulted by Filner has been "lit up" with calls, so that doesn't sound too good for him either.
Filner's deposition had been set for last Friday, but he became "unavailable" for that purpose after entering what his psychologist called "an intensive treatment program" that would last at least two weeks. Presumably that program will include having somebody tell him what sexual harassment is, since according to him the city did not successfully complete its anti-harassment training of him. A training session had been scheduled, his attorney wrote, "but the trainer for the city unilaterally cancelled and never rescheduled…." What's a mayor to do?
To be fair, the attorney's argument to the council wasn't that this omission caused the harassment (if any!), but rather that it increased the chance that the city might be held liable for misconduct by its employee (the mayor). Given that possibility, it might make sense strategically for the city to pay for the employee's defense. But I think it only makes sense if the employee wouldn't otherwise have the resources to defend himself adequately. The letter noted the city's interest "in making certain that Mayor Filner has the resources to defend himself," but it isn't clear whether it actually said he doesn't have those resources. I'm guessing it didn't say that, based on the 9-0 vote not to pay his fees.
It is too bad, though, that the city didn't get Filner trained when it had the chance. It's not like he got any training on this in his previous job (he was a Congressman). And that leaves a man without guidance as to whether particular conduct might or might not be crossing the line. For example, let's say you're thinking about licking a married woman's face after a business meeting. OK or not OK? Who's to say? It's such a fine line.
A city councilman noted that Filner could have taken the training course online, like he did. Sure, but then you can't bring up face-licking questions during the Q-and-A. So what good is it, really?