Dear New Mayor of San Diego:
We expect you to understand that sexual and other forms of unlawful harassment are prohibited. One might have believed that to be well-accepted, however San Diego’s Mayor Bob Filner’s responses to allegations of sexual harassment from ten women (so far) suggest that it may be wrong for us to assume that you would take the position of mayor of San Diego with a detailed understanding of prohibited sexual harassment. In fact, Mayor Filner’s attorney explained, on behalf of his client, that he had worked with many individuals who did not understand what behavior was prohibited under California’s sexual harassment laws; his attorney argued that many people require an opportunity to reflect about their own behavior while in sexual harassment training and that they might not be expected to understand what sexual harassment is unless provided explicit examples to illustrate the kinds of conduct that are inappropriate. Thus, as the City’s next mayor, to aid in your understanding, we contend that there should be no question that prohibited sexual harassment includes, but is not limited to: asking people that work with to come work without panties, kissing or attempting to kiss people who do not want to be kissed, groping people’s breasts and/or buttocks, holding people in headlocks and otherwise impeding their freedom of movement, sending offensive and sexually explicit texts and email. No doubt, we will be able to add to this list once discovery in the pending complaints against Mayor Filner gets underway.
It is noted that the complainants allege that Mayor Filner engaged in the aforementioned behaviors during his tenure as mayor. To be clear, we request that you do not. We know that seems obvious, but apparently to Mayor Filner, it was not.
Importantly, we expect that you assume the position of mayor with the sum-total of your professional insight and experience intact. Even if new to being mayor or new to politics, we expect a fundamental understanding of decency and fair treatment as befitting a publicly elected, high-profile political official. That point was seemingly lost on your predecessor; in fact, Mayor Filner’s attorney contends that the mayor’s behavior may not have been so bad had he’d received sexual harassment training from the City. In arguing that the City of San Diego should pay Mayor Filner’s defense costs because it failed to provide the mayor with sexual harassment training during his tenure as mayor, the attorney argued that the reason for Mayor Filner’s behavior was that he did not have the opportunity to sit in a classroom and contemplate his behavior relative to the examples that might have been given to illustrate what is and is not unlawful harassment. In so arguing, the attorney missed some important points that we want to make clear for you. These points are made not only to offer help to you and your career, but to help you avoid hurting those around you who are substantially impacted by your behavior – your family, your staff, the City, the public, etc.
1. You are an elected leader and we expect you to set a high standard with regard to your own behavior. Beyond merely obeying the law and avoiding unlawful harassment, as mayor of “America’s Finest City” we ask that you demonstrate your commitment to the City’s stated values: diversity, integrity, openness, accountability, and service.
2. You were elected with the understanding that you possess sufficient common sense and good judgment to lead ethically and responsibly without the need for detailed checklists and definitions to illustrate how to treat people with decency and respect. Integrity is an inherent requirement of the job; we will hold you accountable for your actions and their impacts.
Finally, Mayor Filner’s attorney was mistaken with regard to the objectives of sexual harassment training. A key benefit of sexual harassment training and organizational policies is to affirm our values as an organization and to shed a light on inappropriate behavior; we provide training to encourage people to speak up with the assurance that the organization wants to hear about inappropriate behavior. Through training, people learn of the organization’s policies, its commitments, and receive the encouragement to speak up when they are treated unfairly or disrespectfully. It is doubtful anyway that sexual harassment training would have changed Mayor Filner’s behavior. In fact, Mayor Filner took a two-week leave of absence for intensive behavioral training to address his purportedly pathological behavioral tendencies. That alone suggests that a single training session offered by the City could not reasonably be expected to change his behavior. Instead, if there was any failing on the part of the City worth noting it was that Mayor Filner’s behavior persisted as long as it did and affected as many people as it did before it was reported. It took the courageous reporting about their alleged harassment of a few women that ultimately gave voice to the others’ complaints about Mayor Filner. We want people to feel comfortable speaking up and we want to encourage them to speak up as soon as they feel they have been treated inappropriately. This then highlights the final point we want you to understand:
3. We will continue to encourage employees and the public to speak up and report any concerns if they feel that they have been treated in a manner that is offensive or disrespectful. All concerns brought in good faith will be investigated and corrective action will be taken without retaliation, even if the concerns are with you.
With these points now made, we look forward to your tenure as San Diego’s next mayor.