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Adrian Walker

Cambridge pays $14 million in lawsuits, but did nothing wrong?

Amazing to consider, but even after three courageous women won nearly $14 million from the city of Cambridge, nobody seems to think anyone really did anything wrong.

For years, I have watched with wonder as Cambridge litigated, appealed and reappealed the retaliation case of Malvina Monteiro, a city official who was driven out of city government for complaining about discrimination and about retaliation for her complaints.

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Monteiro would eventually be joined in suing the city by Linda Stamper and Mary Wong. who also alleged harassment and retaliation. All of them won, though the cases dragged on for well over a decade.

In the end, after all the losses, all the city of Cambridge had to cling to — besides hubris — was secrecy. As part of the settlement agreements with Stamper and Wong, neither side was allowed to reveal the amount of the settlement.

There are, lawyers say, sometimes good reasons to seal settlements, even those paid with public money. This case is a good example of why I think they are wrong about that.

Fortunately, the veil of secrecy was lifted earlier this month after an appeal by the Cambridge Chronicle to Secretary of State William Galvin. Galvin ruled that the settlements were public record. The unsealed settlement revealed that Wong and Stamper received a combined $3.85 million from the city. That was in addition to the $8 million the city has paid to Monteiro.

It’s fair to say that the city’s lousy management practices have cost it dearly. But, oddly, the people who run Cambridge have consistently insisted that nothing was done wrong, and they never seemed to care about the money. They’ve paid millions more than they might have, all the while insisting that all of the cases were frivolous. Clearly they were wrong about that.

Monteiro ran something called the Police Review and Advisory Board, a civilian-review department. Wong’s job was running a department that coordinated services for children and families. Stamper was one of the city’s lawyers — an underutilized and frequently mistreated lawyer, to judge from court records. None of them seemed to get the point that women of color were not supposed to make waves in Cambridge City Hall.

The decision to fight the complaints, fiercely and obstinately and for so long, was primarily the work of longtime City Manager Robert Healy. As you may have heard, Cambridge has a City Council, but it spent the long years of this case primarily ducking for cover, and occasionally suggesting that the city would be exonerated once people really knew what happened. Just the opposite was true: the more details became public, the worse the city looked. And now people know just how much it cost.

It’s nice that the women got their money. But I continue to find it disturbing that city officials have never really apologized for the harassment of its employees, or vowed to do anything differently. They have never even paid lip service to the notion of change. With the notable exception of City Councilor Ken Reeves, they have mostly proclaimed their victimhood, and that includes a succession of the city’s mayors. If the courts thought they were sending a message to Cambridge’s so-called leaders, there is no evidence that anyone ever received it.

“They didn’t do this for money; they did it for justice,” said Ellen J. Zucker, the lawyer who represented all three plaintiffs. “They are chagrined that they got justice for themselves, but not necessarily for others.”

Both publicly and internally, the city has treated this case as a mere footnote. Healy recently announced that he will retire in a few months, with one of the most lucrative retirement packages in the history of Massachusetts. Attorney Nancy Glowa, whom Stamper identified in court documents as one of her most persistent irritants, was recently named acting city solicitor. Yes, after playing a leading role in this fiasco, she has been promoted.

All this should be an embarrassment to Cambridge, but no one has ever seemed embarrassed. The city’s bond rating is great, and taxes are relatively low. To this misguided crew, nothing else really seems to matter.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Adrian_Walker.
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