Friday, July 12, 2024

Monteiro v. City of Cambridge, a wrongful-termination lawsuit that could cost Cambridge $10 million, returned Wednesday to the John Adams Courthouse in Boston. (Photo: Josh Delsman)

A lengthy lawsuit with a potential $10 million in the balance was shrugged off by a city lawyer as “feathers ruffled, feelings hurt” Wednesday as Monteiro v. City of Cambridge returned to an appeals court in Boston.

In the wrongful termination case, which began a dozen years ago, Malvina Monteiro claims she was wrongfully terminated as executive secretary of the Police Review and Advisory Board by Cambridge City Manager Robert W. Healy when he found she was complaining about racial discrimination.

City counsel Joan A. Lukey said the city ended Monteiro’s employment after finding out she falsified time sheets to get a master’s degree during work hours. Monteiro’s termination, she argued, came five years after she filed the racial discrimination complaint, “too far out to infer” it was related to the charge. As far as Monteiro’s evidence for retaliation, Lukey claimed these were “feathers ruffled, feelings hurt kind of things” and not substantial enough to be deemed retaliation.

Monteiro’s counsel, Ellen Zucker, responded with an emotional argument: that leading up to Monteiro’s termination, Healy enacted a series of retaliatory measures against her, including stripping her of management duties in selecting members for her board. Healy was not only being dishonest in his actions as Monteiro’s boss, but also lied on the stand during trial, Zucker said.

After a 2008 trial, a Middlesex Superior Court jury awarded Monteiro $4.5 million in damages, $3.5 million of which were punitive damages.

The city appealed upon Healy’s insistence, despite some city councillors advising him otherwise. If the appeal falls in the plaintiff’s favor, the cost to the city could reach $10 million, including $2 million in legal fees and $70,000 a month in interest for the original judgment.

After rejecting the city’s initial appeal, Middlesex Superior Court Judge Bonnie MacLeod-Mancuso wrote in a 2009 decision that the jury had cause to find Healy’s actions “reprehensible.”

Lukey said she expects a decision to be released in the next two to four months.