By Dan Whitcomb
(Reuters) - A San Diego parks employee who says Mayor Bob Filner put her in a headlock and rubbed against her breasts at a public event this year filed a $500,000 battery and sexual harassment claim against the city on Monday, her attorney said.
Stacy McKenzie, one of 18 women who accuse Filner of making unwanted sexual advances, is the second in two months to initiate legal action against the embattled politician. Her claim is the precursor to a lawsuit.
Filner, a former Democratic congressman who was elected mayor of California's second-largest city last year, announced on Friday that he would step down effective August 30 as part of a settlement with the city over a lawsuit filed by his former press secretary, Irene McCormack Jackson.
The city had filed its own suit against Filner, 70, seeking to recover any damages it might incur in Jackson's case. The City Council also voted to deny a request from the mayor's private lawyers to pick up any of his attorney fees.
McKenzie, a parks department district manager who has worked for the city for 32 years, alleged that the mayor touched her inappropriately during a public event in April.
"Filner, who was attending the event as a dignitary, sexually battered Ms. McKenzie after asking her on a date when he pursued her across a city park where families were gathered, grabbed her from behind and put her into a headlock with his right arm rubbing across her breasts and his left arm rubbing her upper arm," her attorney, Dan Gilleon, said in a statement.
In her written claim, McKenzie accuses the city of failing to prevent sexual harassment by Filner or to warn of his "predatory nature." The claim seeks $500,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.
"Although the city attorney previously stated he 'will not under any circumstance represent Bob Filner,' he has now switched corners and is defending the mayor," Gilleon said.
"We believe downplaying Filner's conduct is not only legally wrong, it also sends the wrong message for a high profile, elected official to minimize the very type of sexual battery he has previously condemned," Gilleon said.
"At the same time, our client does not want her case to cost the city millions of dollars. We hope the city attorney will put aside both hats he has been wearing and negotiate a fair and balanced settlement," he added.
Neither a law firm representing Filner nor his press secretary could be reached on Monday afternoon for comment about the claim. A spokesman for San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
In announcing his resignation on Friday, an emotional Filner apologized to San Diego residents but said no sexual harassment allegations had been proven against him.
"In a lynch mob mentality, rumors become allegations, allegations become facts, facts become evidence of sexual harassment which have led to demands for my resignation and recall," he said.
Since Jackson filed her suit last month, 17 more women have come forward to accuse Filner of groping, forced kisses or making other unwanted advances.
Among them were a retired U.S. Navy admiral, a college dean, a licensed vocational nurse, several business women and two military veterans who said he harassed them at a meeting for women who had been raped while serving in the armed forces.
Nearly every elected official in San Diego from both parties urged him to step down, including all nine members of City Council. The mayor has apologized for what he acknowledged was a pattern of disrespectful and intimidating behavior toward women.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and David Gregorio)