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Judge upholds verdict that awarded BPD detective $2 million in gender discrimination lawsuit

Boston police headquartersCraig F. Walker/Globe Staff

A federal judge on Tuesday upheld a $2 million judgment awarded to a high-ranking female Boston police detective who accused her former supervisor of gender discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.

US District Court Judge Leo T. Sorokin rejected a series of post-trial motions the city had filed to appeal a jury’s November ruling that Lieutenant Detective Donna Gavin had proven her claims against the police department and her former boss, Captain Detective Mark Hayes.

“All of their challenges ... rest on flawed legal positions previously considered and rejected by the Court and on a selective recitation of the record which ignores evidence presented at trial that plainly and persuasively supports the jury’s verdict,” Sorkin wrote.


Sorokin ordered the city to pay for nearly all of Gavin’s attorney’s fees, which total more than $1.3 million, according to court documents.

Gavin, a 35-year veteran of the force who led the department’s human trafficking unit for nearly a decade, sued the city and Hayes, claiming he discriminated against her because she’s a woman and retaliated against her when she filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination in 2017.

“Lieutenant Detective Donna Gavin was brave to take on this fight against gender discrimination, which has been a hard and long fight,” her lawyer, Nick Carter, said in a statement.

“She, and we as her counsel, are gratified the trial court has upheld the jury verdict in its entirety and nearly all of our attorney fee requests. We hope at long last the city will end this fight and do the right thing, which is to recognize the wrong that was done to her and to pay the amount they owe as found by the jury and the judge.”

A spokesperson for Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said the city will review the court’s decision. The Boston Police Department referred questions to the mayor’s office.


Gavin testified at trial that she never had problems with Hayes while he was her supervisor from 2009 to 2015, when she was a sergeant detective leading the human trafficking unit. She said this changed after she was promoted to lieutenant detective, making her the only woman at the time to hold that title, and was asked by then-Mayor Martin Walsh to lead the city’s effort against sex trafficking.

In May 2016, just a few weeks after Gavin was promoted, Hayes wrote a letter nominating Gavin for an award where he described her as a “leading trainer” and an expert in her field, according to court documents. Hayes testified that this letter was “true” when he wrote it, the documents stated.

Despite this praise, Gavin testified that Hayes treated her differently from her male counterparts by conducting secret audits of her cases, micromanaging her work, and constantly undermining her to subordinates and superiors.

Hayes testified that he was concerned about Gavin’s work and believed she tried to use her political connections to bypass his authority.

Two months after writing the letter recommending her for an award, Hayes wrote to Boston police Superintendent in chief Gregory Long and said Gavin would not follow directives and should be transferred out of the human trafficking unit, according to court documents.

“The jury could infer that what Hayes saw in Gavin was a female rising star headed for substantial law enforcement, public, and career success and could not abide by that,” Sorokin wrote. “The jury could also conclude this was the beginning of a campaign by Hayes to discriminate against and undermine Gavin at every turn.”


A lawyer representing Hayes did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment Wednesday evening.

In May 2017, Hayes filed an internal affairs complaint against Gavin that totaled 46 single-spaced pages and included a log where he recorded his concerns.

In his decision, Sorokin wrote that Hayes kept the log “to secretly chronicle his criticisms of Gavin” and called it “the most obvious example” that Gavin was “singled out for harassment and retaliation because of her gender.”

“That one extraordinary exhibit, standing alone (and it did not stand alone), supports an inference that Hayes targeted Gavin for adverse treatment based on her gender,” Sorokin wrote.

Nick Stoico can be reached at Follow him @NickStoico.