Press Release

Burns & Levinson Secures Victory for Malvina Monteiro in Her 12+ Year Employment Discrimination Case Against City of Cambridge

August 17, 2011

On August 15, 2011, the Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed a $6.7 million judgment entered in the case of Malvina Monteiro v. City of Cambridge. In 1998, Ms. Monteiro filed a charge of discrimination against the City of Cambridge, with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (“MCAD”), alleging that she faced race discrimination and retaliation on the job. Ms. Monteiro served as the Executive Director of Cambridge’s Police Review and Advisory Board; she reported directly to the Cambridge City Manager, Robert Healy. Although she had an unblemished work record prior to raising concerns, the City then began a prolonged and systematic campaign to punish Ms. Monteiro. She was ultimately terminated in 2003. At trial, she claimed that the city’s treatment of her amounted to unlawful retaliation. The jury agreed and they further decided that the city’s conduct – marginalizing Ms. Monteiro, soliciting complaints and, when that did not work, trumping up charges and engaging in a singularly harsh and prolonged investigation that still turned up nothing – was so outrageous that it called for the imposition of punitive damages. In May of 2008, Ms. Monteiro was awarded $4.5 million in damages, including a punitive damages award of $3.5 million. That damages award, combined with interest and attorneys fees, amounted to over $6.7 million at the time judgment entered in the Superior Court in 2010 (after the city had unsuccessfully pressed a number of post-trial motions). The city appealed. This week, the Massachusetts Appeals Court rejected every argument made, affirming the judgment in full. The court noted that Ms. Monteiro presented “ample evidence” that the city engaged in “outrageous conduct” when it participated in a campaign to punish Ms. Monteiro for exercising her legal rights. As for the ballooning size of the award the city will now be obliged to pay; the court noted that the city declined to take steps that could have slowed the accrual of interest. The judges observed that the city “acted at its own peril by neglecting to pursue alternatives.” The court further determined that Ms. Monteiro was entitled to have her appellate fees paid by the city and invited Monteiro’s counsel to submit a fee application within 14 days. For the full duration of her dispute with the city, Ms. Monteiro has been represented by Ellen J. Zucker, a partner at Burns & Levinson LLP. Ms. Zucker was lead counsel at trial and argued the appeal. Ms. Zucker reacted to news of the court’s action: “The Appeals Court decision is, of course, enormously gratifying, but this victory belongs entirely to Malvina Monteiro. She had the courage to stand up for what is right and to challenge the conduct of even the most powerful in city government.” Ms. Zucker noted that it was disappointing to learn that after the jury’s verdicts – including a finding that the city manager’s conduct was so outrageous as to warrant the imposition of $3.5 million in punitive damages – the city awarded that same city manager a lucrative contract extension and permitted him to make the decision about whether or not to take an appeal. “Ms. Monteiro brought her claims in the hope that the city would learn not to run city government by fear and by exacting retribution against employees who dare to raise concerns about discrimination. Perhaps now, even at this late date, the city will pay attention.” Ms. Monteiro’s litigation team included Burns & Levinson Litigation Department Co-Chair Laura R. Studen, who brought her brilliant trial skills to the team. Ms. Studen said: “Getting this right for Ms. Monteiro was satisfying. On a good day, we give our clients a voice in the legal process; on a great day, we persuade juries and judges that the wrongs done to them deserve vindication. This was a great day.” Within its Labor, Employment and Employee Benefits practice, Burns & Levinson attorneys represent clients in discrimination, wrongful termination, civil rights, sexual harassment, non-competition and trade secret, and wage and hour compliance suits. For more information, see the Memorandum and Decision to Rule 1:28.

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