Friday, April 19, 2024

An appeals finding against the City of Cambridge was filed Monday at the John Adams Courthouse in Boston. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

An appeals court found Monday in favor of Malvina Monteiro in a 12-year-old lawsuit in which the city is accused of wrongful termination.

“We have no occasion to disturb the judgment,” the U.S. Appeals court said in an unpublished decision in Malvina Monteiro vs. City of Cambridge, in which Monteiro claims she was fired as executive secretary of the Police Review and Advisory Board by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.

“We agree with the judge that Monteiro presented ample evidence from which a reasonable juror could find outrageous conduct,” the finding says.

Monteiro and her lawyer, Ellen Zucker of Burns & Levinson LLP, have 14 days after receiving the judgment to file a bill with the city, and the city has another 14 days to respond, according to the court.

The amount would be substantial — a jury found in her favor in 2008 on her retaliation claim and awarded more than $4.5 million in compensatory and punitive damages; she was also awarded pre- and post-judgment interest, attorney’s fees and costs, for a total $6.7 million, the court said — and Cambridge attorney fees may well up the total to $10 million.

Zucker, reached Monday for comment, said a July 24 calculation of the total, not including her fees (or for those of city lawyers), is $7,655,851.

“The city may request further appellate review of the Superior Court judgment, but that review is very sparingly granted,” Zucker said. “I think their chances are very slim.”

The appeals court decision is presented as being under “rule 1:28,” which a Massachusetts Trial Court website says suggests “no substantial question of law is presented by the appeal.”

“Malvina deserves this”

Zucker said she sent e-mail to Monteiro to let her know of the decision, but because it was the middle of the night in Cape Verde — to which Monteiro has said she returned when unable to find well-paying work as a translator in the United States — there had been no response.

“The congratulations on this day should go to my client, Malvina Monteiro, because she had the courage to stand up for what was right and call the city on its conduct,” Zucker said. “Malvina deserves this for what she went through.”

She is also a stand-in for others who suffered, Zucker said. There were originally five women of color accusing the city of misconduct; Zucker said two gave up and moved out of state. She represents the final two, Linda Stamper and Mary Wong, starting with a pretrial hearing in Wong’s case in mid-September.

The city’s attorney, Joan A. Lukey of Ropes & Gray, called the matter “feathers ruffled, feelings hurt” during a May appeals court appearance and argued that the Superior Court lacked jurisdiction; there had been erroneous jury instructions; erroneous admission of evidence; an improper closing argument; and several errors related to the jury’s award of damages, as well as incorrect computation of post-judgment interest.

Healy and Lukey were unavailable for comment Monday afternoon.

Healy’s office said the city manager was in Boston for meetings, while Lukey’s assistant said the lawyer was away taking depositions for another case and would probably be unable to comment for a couple of days.

Officials decide against control

Mayor David Maher was also called for comment.

In June, the City Council and Healy returned a clause to Healy’s contract that would protect him from court punishments for cases in which he’d been acting as city manager. The clause had been accidentally dropped from his contracts with the city for five years.

Before that, in May, councillor Craig Kelley sought control of Law Department funds and to secure the right to sue the city’s attorneys in the Monteiro case for bad advice. The efforts failed, despite the fact Kelley said Lukey herself had mentioned reducing Monteiro’s punitive damages because Healy hadn’t acted recklessly in the case, but instead had “prudently sought the regular advice of counsel.”

Zucker, reflecting Monday on the finding of the appeals court, said she’d had a good feeling about it months ago, after oral argument, and told Monteiro so when she went with her client for a meal.

“I told her how proud I was of her, and she told me, ‘You know, I only ever wanted my job,’” Zucker said.