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Court upholds race bias verdict

Head of board had sued Cambridge

By Meghan E. Irons
Globe Staff / August 16, 2011

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The state appeals court upheld a verdict yesterday against Cambridge’s city manager in a long-running racial-discrimination case whose multimillion-dollar costs have ballooned over the past several years.

The Massachusetts Court of Appeals affirmed earlier court decisions upholding a 2008 jury verdict awarding Malvina Monteiro more than $4.5 million after she alleged that city manager Robert Healy and other officials engaged in a systematic campaign to punish her after she filed a 1998 complaint against them with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

Monteiro resigned as executive director of the city’s Police Review and Advisory Committee in 2003 after city officials informed her of their intention to fire her.

The total bill in her case has ballooned to nearly $10 million, including postjudgment interests, attorneys’ fees, and court costs, said Ellen Zucker, who represents Monteiro, who is now in her homeland of Cape Verde.

“This is obviously a very gratifying result, and the victory belongs to my client Malvina Monteiro, who for years stood up for what is right and who had the courage to call the city out on its conduct,’’ Zucker said.

Yesterday’s decision prompted City Councilor Marjorie Decker to urge Mayor David Maher to request a special executive session be held this week with members of the council, which is on summer break.

Decker, who had been urging the city to resolve the case, said she was not surprised by the ruling.

“From my point of view, the city should have done what it needed to do, learned its lesson, and moved on,’’ she said. “I have to believe that is going to happen’’ going forward.

Neither Healy nor Maher responded to Globe requests for comment last night. Healy, who is the longest-serving city manager and the highest paid in the state, made nearly $330,000 last year.

City solicitor Don Drisdell would only say that the city’s legal counsel “is reviewing the decision.’’ The city has 14 days to respond to the ruling.

In yesterday’s decision, the appeals court affirmed a 2009 Middlesex Superior Court ruling and rejected the city’s arguments that several errors were made during the jury trial.

“We have no occasion to disturb the judgment,’’ the appeals court ruled.

The city’s appeal argued that errors made during Monteiro’s jury trial in 2008 included incorrect jury instructions, an improper closing argument, mistakes related to the jury’s damages award, and erroneous computation of postjudgment interest.

The appeals court said the city could have avoided the postjudgment interest from accumulating by making payment arrangements over the years.

“The city thus acted at its own peril by neglecting to pursue those alternatives,’’ the court wrote.

Monteiro was hired by the city in 1990 to head the city’s Police Review and Advisory Committee, a civilian oversight group. She and four other women of color who held city management jobs alleged they were not treated the same way as their white colleagues and were not given the same opportunities.

In 2008, a jury awarded Monteiro a verdict that included $3.5 million in punitive damages, which are rare in Massachusetts.

Then in September 2009, the case went before Judge Bonnie H. MacLeod-Mancuso in Middlesex Superior Court. The judge saved her strongest words for Healy, calling his behavior in the Monteiro matter “reprehensible.’’

“Healy indicated, in his testimony, that he was aware of the legal implications of retaliation,’’ MacLeod-Mancuso wrote in 2009. “Such conscious disregard for the law of retaliation would provide relevant support for an argument that strong medicine is required to cure the defendant’s disrespect for the law.’’

Meghan E. Irons can be reached at mirons@globe.com