Cambridge won’t seek appeals in bias case

Ex-city worker alleged discrimination in lawsuit

By Meghan E. Irons
Globe Staff / August 20, 2011

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CAMBRIDGE - After 13 years of wrangling, the City of Cambridge announced yesterday that it would end its legal appeals in a race discrimination case involving former city worker Malvina Monteiro.

City Manager Robert Healy, who oversees the day-to-day operations of the government, emerged from a brief closed-door session with the City Council yesterday, saying he was ready to move on.

“I have decided not to pursue an appeal to the state Supreme Judicial Court in this 13-year-old case,’’ he wrote in a statement. “It is now time for the city to move forward and bring closure to this matter.’’

The city’s decision brought relief to Monteiro, who had sued the city in 2003, alleging that Healy and his staff engaged in a campaign to punish her after she filed a 1998 complaint against them with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

“I only wanted to do my job with dignity and to be treated as an equal,’’ Monteiro said in a brief telephone interview from her native Cape Verde, where she is living.

Monteiro was hired in 1990 and served as the head of the city’s Police Review and Advisory Committee, a civilian oversight group.

In 1998, she and four other women of color who held city management jobs filed a race discrimination complaint, alleging they were not treated the same as their white colleagues and were not given the same opportunities.

Monteiro left her job in 2003 after city officials informed her of their intention to fire her. She alleged that Healy and other city officials engaged in a campaign to retaliate against her for filing the discrimination complaint.

Her case was brought to trial in 2005, but that ended when a jury found that Monteiro failed to prove the city discriminated against her before she filed her complaint. But the jury deadlocked on three counts dealing with whether Cambridge discriminated or retaliated against her after filing the complaint.

In 2008, another jury found in Monteiro’s favor, awarding her a judgment that included $3.5 million in punitive damages, which are rare in Massachusetts.

The city filed an appeal, but Middlesex Superior Court Judge Bonnie H. MacLeod-Mancuso upheld that verdict a year later. In her ruling, she described the action of the city manager and other city employees as a “deliberate, systematic campaign to punish the plaintiff as a reprisal for her effrontery in lodging a discrimination claim.’’

Earlier this week, the Massachusetts Court of Appeals upheld the earlier rulings and rejected each one of the city’s six legal challenges to discard the verdict.

In a footnote, the court said that “the city acted at its own peril’’ in its yearslong appeals by neglecting to avoid the accumulation of interest costs after the judgment.

In the statement yesterday, Healy said he has decided not to pursue an appeal with the Supreme Judicial Court. He also added that he was not pleased with this week’s ruling by the appeals court.

“I am very disappointed with this decision and maintain that the city did not retaliate against Ms. Monteiro,’’ Healy wrote.

He said that he had been planning for “such a potential unfortunate outcome’’ and that the jury award would be paid from an “unreserved balance account.’’

The judgment - which has been ballooning over the years with accrued interest, lawyers’ fees, and other court costs - could top $8 million, in addition to the $2 million the city has paid in its legal defense in the case, said Ellen Zucker, who has long represented Monteiro.

In the phone interview yesterday, Monteiro said she was disappointed that Healy remained unchanged in his view that the city did nothing wrong in her case.

“None of this had to happen,’’ she tearfully said. “He doesn’t know that he destroyed my life. He doesn’t know the impact he had on my life. He doesn’t even say he’s sorry.’’

Zucker said Healy’s statement suggests that more work on the subject needs to be done on such cases as Monteiro’s.

“It reflects no sense of what went wrong here or his own responsibility either for the treatment of Ms. Monteiro or to the costly battle in which he has obliged the city to engage,’’ she said.

The protracted case has put the spotlight on Healy, who is in charge of the city’s day-to-day operations and its legal team. He has faced criticism as the longest-serving and highest-paid city manager in the state. Healy made nearly $330,000 last year.

All but one member of the nine-member City Council voted to give him a new contract two years ago, said that lone member, Craig Kelley.

“This is not Cambridge’s finest hour,’’ said Councilor Kenneth Reeves as he left the session early yesterday morning. “To have lost three court cases for me is an embarrassment, and I wish Miss Monteiro well.’’

Cambridge - the home of Harvard, MIT, and the thriving biotech industry - is still seen as one of the most desirable places to live for students and workers.

Monteiro said she hopes this is the end of a long, hard road. She said she is pleased that the city decided to end its legal challenge and said she hopes other women will learn from her case.

“I want them to never give up, no matter what,’’ she said, crying.