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Judge finds ‘overwhelming evidence to support’ award of damages to Watertown’s first female detective

A police officer runs with gun drawn while police search for a suspect on April 19, 2013 in Watertown, Massachusetts.Mario Tama

A Middlesex Superior Court judge rejected the town of Watertown’s request for a new trial in the case of a former police detective who won a lawsuit alleging gender discrimination and retaliation after she complained. The judge then awarded new legal fees and reimbursements for costs, boosting former detective Kathleen E. Donohue’s total judgment from $4.3 million to $5.7 million.

Donohue, the Watertown Police Department’s first female detective, filed a lawsuit in 2019, claiming she faced a sexist work environment stretching back over two decades, and was targeted after she spoke up about the conduct.

Judge John P. Pappas, who oversaw the jury trial last fall, found that the evidence “amply” supported a finding of discrimination, and there was “overwhelming evidence” to support an award of punitive damages, according to a 25-page order issued Friday.


Donohue’s lead attorney, Ellen J. Zucker, called the ruling an “amazing win” and said, “Detective Donohue is heartened by the careful, post-trial decision issued by Judge Pappas.”

“This is a very, very, very strong decision, and it is a lesson, because what it says is, ‘If you turned a blind eye to discrimination and retaliation, and you let it fester, and you seek to diminish the person who is daring to bring up concerns, you may face a significant punitive damages award,’ ” Zucker said Monday in a telephone interview.

After a trial that ran from Oct. 24 to Nov. 11, a jury awarded Donohue about $3.36 million for back pay, future earnings, and compensatory damages, plus $1 million in punitive damages, according to lawyers involved in the case.

Pappas’s order also allowed for the addition of interest and legal costs and fees, bringing the total amended judgment to $5.7 million, Zucker said.

“The town protested the jury’s verdicts,” Zucker said. “They now have the considered opinion of a very careful trial judge who had the opportunity to listen to witnesses and weigh the evidence. We hope that the town of Watertown has in fact learned from this experience.”


Watertown officials could not be immediately reached for comment Monday.

Donohue’s lawsuit described a workplace in which she endured inappropriate sexual and demeaning comments about her gender dating back to her earliest days on the force in 1998, including from one sergeant who threatened to “spank” her.

The harassment and bullying steadily increased, with Donohue frequently called out in front of her co-workers, the complaint said.

In the complaint, Donohue said she reported to her superiors that she was endangered by bullets fired by fellow officers during the arrest of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bomber found hiding in a boat in a yard in Watertown in April 2013.

When she reported the behavior to her superior, she was berated, the complaint said.

A state review of the incident later concluded that several officers responding to the boat exercised poor judgment on the use of weapons.

Tonya Alanez can be reached at Follow her @talanez.