SAN DIEGO — A former aide claims San Diego's mayor put her in a headlock and spoke of having sex with her.
The allegations, made Monday, brought new pressure on embattled Mayor Bob Filner to step down.
Filner "is not fit to be the mayor of our great city," the former aide, Irene McCormack Jackson, said. "A man who lacks character makes a mockery of his ideas."
Jackson said Filner created an "intimidating and hostile" work environment for other women as well.
Jackson was hired last year as Filner's director of communications.
But soon her job became a nightmare, Jackson said, as she was subjected to the "Filner headlock" and repeated comments by the 70-year-old Democrat that he wanted to kiss her, have sex with her, even marry her. On one occasion, she said, he suggested she should work without wearing panties.
"His behavior made me feel ashamed, frightened and violated," Jackson said at a news conference Monday to announce a sexual harassment lawsuit against the city and Filner, filed on her behalf by Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred.
Jackson's decision to go public appeared to increase the pressure on the combative, liberal mayor who was elected just eight months ago and, for the last two weeks, has been engulfed in a sexual harassment scandal. Filner has scarcely been seen in public since three former supporters accused him of harassing staffers and constituents and urged him to resign.
Late Monday afternoon he issued a statement denying the allegations.
"I am saddened by the charges that were leveled against me today," Filner said. "I do not believe these claims are valid. That is why due process is so important. I intend to defend myself vigorously and I know that justice will prevail."
Filner, the first Democrat elected mayor in San Diego in two decades, had previously released a video in which he apologized for his behavior — acknowledging, "I need help" — though he later issued a statement denying he had committed sexual harassment.
He has refused to resign and has hired an attorney to fight the allegations.
A former reporter and editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune, Jackson, 57, was the Port of San Diego's $175,000-a-year vice president for public policy when she left to join Filner's staff at a salary of $125,000 soon after he was elected in November.
Jackson said that when Filner's former deputy chief of staff confronted him with allegations of mistreating women on his staff, Filner only laughed. The deputy chief of staff has since resigned. Jackson said she realized then that Filner would not change.
"I wanted to keep what I experienced hidden and compartmentalized," Jackson said. "I felt that I could tough it out. However, my family and close friends noticed my anxiety and how different and uncommunicative I had become while I was working for the mayor."
Jackson and Allred called on Filner to resign.
Six of nine members of the City Council have called on him to step down. Several other prominent San Diego Democrats, including Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, Assembly Majority Leader Toni Atkins, and U.S. Reps. Scott Peters and Susan Davis, have also called for his resignation.
A recall movement has been announced.