fb-pixel Skip to main content

Federal jury awards Boston police detective $2 million in gender discrimination lawsuit

Boston Police Headquarters in Boston, MA on June 9, 2021.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

A federal jury Monday ordered the city to pay $2 million to a high-ranking female Boston police detective in a gender discrimination case that cast a spotlight on the treatment of women in the city’s male-dominated police force.

After several hours of deliberations and four weeks of trial, the jury found Lieutenant Detective Donna Gavin, who led the Police Department’s human trafficking unit for nearly a decade, had proven all of her claims against the city and her former supervisor, Captain Detective Mark Hayes

The nine-member jury determined that the city and Hayes discriminated against Gavin, 57, a 35-year veteran of the force, because she is a woman, created a hostile work environment, and retaliated against her after she filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination in 2017.

Advertisement



“We’re thrilled on behalf of Donna Gavin and all the women in the Boston Police Department and the women who may want to work there in the future,” Gavin’s attorney, Nicholas Carter, said after the verdict. “The jury has clearly found that Donna Gavin was discriminated against and retaliated against and that that’s completely unacceptable.”

Carter said he hoped the verdict would bring about long-overdue changes in the department’s treatment of women and lead to an increase in the number of women in leadership positions.

According to Boston police figures, men account for 86 percent of the force’s nearly 2,100 sworn officers. Gavin was the only female lieutenant detective on the force when she filed her complaint, but is now one of three.

Gavin declined to comment as she left the courtroom, surrounded by a small group of family and friends, some of who wiped away tears of joy.

Hayes, his attorneys, and lawyers for the city declined to comment on the verdict or say whether they will appeal. A spokeswoman for the mayor’s office said officials were reviewing the verdict.

Advertisement



During closing arguments on Monday, Gavin’s lawyer told jurors the “boys’ network” at the Police Department targeted Gavin to prevent her from advancing to the command staff, crushing her career solely because of her gender.

That network, led by Hayes, “hated the idea that a talented woman might rise above them to a position of real power in the Boston Police Department,” Carter said.

Lawyers for the city and Hayes argued that Gavin wasn’t treated differently than her male counterparts but expected preferential treatment after being tapped by then-mayor Martin J. Walsh in 2016 to lead the city’s efforts to target human sex trafficking.

“She’s politically connected and she makes no bones about it,” Erika Reis, who represents the city, said during her closing argument. “What led us here today isn’t about gender, it’s about entitlement.”

Reis argued that Hayes had concerns about Gavin’s work and she didn’t like it when he confronted her about it. She described Hayes as a tough, direct, and detail-oriented supervisor.

“The law doesn’t require your boss to be nice to you,” Reis said. “He was holding her accountable as her manager and she didn’t like it plain and simple. It had nothing to do with her gender and everything to do with her work.”

Hayes’ lawyer, Evan Ouellette, said Hayes was “motivated by facts,” not gender, and “does not have an issue with women in power.”

But jurors rejected those arguments, siding with Gavin on every count.

Advertisement



During the trial, Gavin, a nationally recognized expert on sexual exploitation, testified that she had no issues with Hayes as her supervisor from 2009 to 2015, when she ran the department’s human trafficking unit as a sergeant detective. But she said his attitude toward her changed the following year when she was asked by Walsh and the police commissioner to return to the unit following her promotion to lieutenant detective.

She assumed a newly created position overseeing both the human trafficking and crimes against children units and was also tapped to coordinate a new city initiative targeting sexual exploitation. At the time, she was the only female lieutenant detective on the force.

She said Hayes treated her far differently than her male counterparts by conducting secret audits of her cases, micromanaging her work, and constantly undermining her to subordinates and superiors.

She told jurors that Hayes assigned her to a cubicle, making her the only lieutenant detective without a private office for nearly a year. After she filed a complaint with the police union, she said she was initially offered an office at the back of the building, overlooking an alley and dumpster.

Hayes testified that he had serious concerns about Gavin’s work and believed she tried to use her political connections to bypass his authority. He said he tried to have her removed from her new job after just two months and began documenting his concerns. He filed a complaint against Gavin shortly after she filed hers against him.

Advertisement



Gavin and Hayes continued to work at the Dee Kennedy Family Justice Center, where Hayes continued to oversee four units — including those supervised by Gavin — for two years after the complaints were filed, according to testimony. She was removed from his command and reported to a deputy superintendent. But she said Hayes told members of her unit to bypass her and report directly to him.

In 2019, Hayes and Gavin were both transferred on the same day. Hayes was moved to headquarters, overseeing five units as head of the forensics division, while Gavin was moved to the police academy to oversee grading of new recruits, a job she later called a demotion that took her away from her passion of investigating crimes against women and children.

On Monday, lawyers for Hayes and the city argued that Gavin’s career had not suffered as a result of the transfer, and there was no evidence that she would have been promoted to the command staff even if she had not clashed with Hayes.

But Carter said before Gavin “hit that glass ceiling, her career was on a sharp trajectory upwards.”

He said her transfer to the academy was punitive and she suffered physically and mentally because of her mistreatment. “It crushed her to the core to have her career ended prematurely, and in the painful, humiliating way it has ended,” Carter said.


Shelley Murphy can be reached at shelley.murphy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph.