Friday, June 21, 2024

Councillor Craig Kelley is trying again for a public accounting of the estimated $11.3 million spent on the Malvina Monteiro vs. City of Cambridge civil rights lawsuit and additional money spent on those like it. He’s filed a policy order to be taken up at Monday’s meeting of the City Council that asks the city manager to report:

  • Outside legal expenses incurred on the Monteiro case and related cases and issues.
  • The cost of the appeal of the Monteiro case over the original judgment, including interest and legal fees for the defendant and the plaintiff.
  • The amount of money spent settling two related cases this month, before they got to court.
  • The overall amount of money the city paid to Monteiro.

City councillor Henrietta Davis says she’s “surprised and still learning about the concern in the community” about the settling of three decade-old civil rights lawsuits filed against the city by women of color. (Photo: Liv Rachelle Gold)

If any of the issues are still considered confidential for legal reasons, Kelley said, he wanted City Manager Robert W. Healy to detail for the council why, and when they would finally be open to the public.

Kelley has been a longtime critic of the city’s handling of the cases, having made bids for the council to control legal expenditures such as to WilmerHale, the city’s lawyers in the Monteiro case; to consider options in a so-called “legal malpractice” case against WilmerHale; to open discussion of the Monteiro case to the public; and to explain the other cases as they neared their court dates. All of his attempts have failed in the face of opposition from a majority of other councillors.

Questions about the millions spent to settle the lawsuits have dogged councillors at candidates forums leading up the Nov. 8 election, but some councillors insist that, despite the resounding financial and legal defeats in court — with a jury suggesting a multimillion-dollar payout to Monteiro; a judge saying Healy’s testimony was “inconsistent and incoherent” and that the jury had reason to find his conduct “reprehensible”; and an appeals court dismissing the city’s pleadings because “no substantial question of law [was] presented” — there was good reason for the actions of the city and city manager, including his decision to appeal.

“There are a lot of aspects to the terms of retaliation that we cannot say publicly yet why she was fired, but I think at some point those facts will come out,” councillor Tim Toomey said at a Sept. 27 forum.

“I’m surprised and still learning about the concern in the community about the Monteiro case and issues about compensation. To me it doesn’t seem so serious as I find others in the community seem to think it is, and I think that’s because being on the council, we know more about the ins and outs of what’s going on, and maybe we haven’t communicated that very well,” councillor Henrietta Davis said at an Aug. 31 forum. “The amount of payment charged to the city [by a jury] was more than if somebody had died. It didn’t seem to make any sense. I and most of the other councillors supported an appeal, so we bear some of that responsibility.”

The roots of the Monteiro case date to the 1980s, when racial unrest involving city police led to formation of the Police Review and Advisory Board, and then to a push a decade later to add more women and people of color to the ranks of city government. In all, seven such hires took action against the city, with two female police officers quickly dropping their complaints.

“The case tells the story of five women of color employed by the City of Cambridge beginning in the 1990s,” begins the original complaint filed in Suffolk Superior Court on June 27, 2001. (In the hope of getting a jury more sympathetic to the city’s defense, the case was later moved to Middlesex County courts.)

Referring to plaintiffs Mary Chui Wong, Malvina Monteiro, Linda Stamper, Florencia LaChance and Marian Hampton, the complaint continues: “Asian-American, Cape Verdean and African-American, these women of color were hired to fill management and professional positions with the city. They came from different experiences, backgrounds and expertise. Once in city employ, however, they found a similar attitude confronting them and limiting their abilities to do their jobs.

“This is a case about the persistence of race discrimination in city employment after political pressure forced the hiring of some people of color in the city’s upper levels of employment. It is also about the city’s retaliation against employees of color, when they actively opposed discriminatory practices or attempted to promote equal opportunity.”

Bob Sprague contributed to this report.