A Massachusetts Appeals Court this week affirmed a $4.5 million jury verdict for a City of Cambridge employee who alleged that her bosses retaliated against her after she filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission of Discrimination. The employee, a native Cape Verdean, originally filed the complaint with the Commission in 1998, and she allegedly received systematic harassment over the next five years, and eventual termination from her position as Executive Secretary of the Police Review and Advisory Board.
The jury verdict was strictly based on the claim of retaliation -- that is, that the City terminated her in response to her complaint of discrimination. This is another reminder that under the state employment discrimination statute, Chapter 151B, employers may be liable for taking adverse action against their employees in response to a claim of discrimination even if the underlying claim proves unfounded (as long as the claim is not frivolous), and for the same amount of damages. Also significant, the termination occurred five years after the employee brought her original discrimination claim. The temporal distance between the two events apparently did not persuade the jury to disbelieve the retaliation claim. The jury awarded the employee $962,400 in lost back pay and front pay damages, $100,000 in emotional distress damages, and $3.5 million in punitive damages. After appeal, this total ballooned to over $10 million.