Mayor Martin J. Walsh could be called to testify in a lawsuit brought by a former City Hall employee who alleges his administration retaliated against and demoted her after she complained she was sexually harassed by Walsh’s then-health and human services chief Felix G. Arroyo.
Walsh is among dozens of potential witnesses identified by Hilani Morales, a former policy director in the city’s office of health and human services who sued Arroyo and the city after Walsh fired Arroyo in August 2017.
Arroyo has called the allegations “completely false,” and the city denies it retaliated against her. Judge Beverly J. Cannone has set an October trial date in Suffolk Superior Court.
Morales, who first filed the lawsuit nearly two years ago, accused Arroyo of manipulating her into a sexual relationship in 2016, and both verbally abusing and physically assaulting her at work after she ended it. Her allegations upended City Hall in the summer of 2017, and derailed Arroyo’s rapid ascension through Boston politics from a city councilor to mayoral candidate and a member of Walsh’s Cabinet.
After Morales reported her complaints to the city’s human resources department, she said she was "stunned” when the city transferred her to the facilities department, where she said she was given the same salary but no directions about her new post, which she called a demotion.
Arroyo denies he harassed Morales, and has accused her of being a "subpar” employee who tried to save her job and destroyed his reputation with false claims. Arroyo has also filed a counterclaim for defamation against Morales, and is seeking an unspecified amount of money.
The sides have discussed settling, according to a 22-page joint memo filed in the case, and "there is a possibility” they’ll engage in mediation, though the filing gives no indication of where any talks stand.
Isaac H. Peres, Arroyo’s attorney, said that while they are willing to listen to the other parties, "at this time we do not anticipate any settlement because Mr. Arroyo wants his day in court.”
“Felix G. Arroyo has always maintained his innocence and is looking forward to clearing his name at trial,” Peres said. "Additionally, we fully expect that Mr. Arroyo’s counterclaim against the plaintiff will be successful, and he will finally receive some measure of justice for her defaming his reputation and character.”
John Tocci, Morales’s attorney, declined to comment. A spokeswoman for the mayor said his office had no comment.
In the Feb. 12 joint memo, the Walsh administration said Morales had agreed to the new position, which carried the same title as her post in health and human services, and that she had repeatedly "expressed interest” in finding a new job in the city.
The move, the city said, was made to "ensure Ms. Morales’s safety” and to avoid any interactions between her and Arroyo. Morales ultimately resigned in November 2017.
Walsh’s place on the witness list does not mean he will be called to testify. The Dorchester Democrat was also among the potential witnesses identified in the case against two City Hall aides accused of extorting union jobs from organizers of the Boston Calling music festival, but he ultimately never took the stand. Those aides’ convictions were tossed by a federal judge earlier this month.
Two of Walsh’s former chiefs of staff — Daniel Koh and David Sweeney — and several other City Hall employees are also identified as potential witnesses in the Morales lawsuit. Morales said she had met with Koh two days before she learned she was being moved to another department, a meeting she documented in an e-mail in which she described Koh as "very troubled by the allegations against Felix.’’
Morales alone lists more than 30 people she could call at trial, which attorneys expect could last weeks.
Morales is seeking $65,000 in back pay and $10,000 to cover medical bills after she said she sought out psychiatric care to deal with the "emotional devastation wrought by her employer.” She’s also seeking an unspecified amount in damages for emotional distress and legal fees.
She filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination in August 2017 and described a hostile working environment, inappropriate conduct, and repeated sexual harassment at the hands of Arroyo. She said he once grabbed her by the back of her neck and squeezed very hard after he learned she had scheduled a meeting with a human resources official.
She ultimately withdrew the complaint to file the civil lawsuit, in which she alleged that Arroyo made repeated advances to the point she felt "trapped” and ultimately relented to a sexual relationship with him in 2016. After she ended it, she said he made repeated requests for sex.
The city hired Kay Hodge, an attorney at Stoneman, Chandler & Miller LLP, in 2017 to conduct an internal probe, which Morales said corroborated most of her allegations and included testimony that a witness saw Arroyo inappropriately touch Morales at a work event.
Arroyo denies that the investigation confirmed any of her claims and argues that she has told contradictory versions of her allegations.