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From police to public works, Boston ponies up $2.1 million in discrimination payouts this year

Boston paid over $2.1 million to settle civil rights and discrimination claims this year.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

The City of Boston paid out more than $2.1 million to settle civil rights and discrimination claims this year, with cases ranging from a gay police lieutenant alleging unfair treatment to a bridge operator asserting that the city bungled his scheduling requests after he was hospitalized with COVID-19.

The Globe obtained the list of five payouts through a public records request, and all of the allegations central to the cases pre-date Mayor Michelle Wu’s administration. Three of the discrimination settlements are related to cases that allege mistreatment from Boston Public Schools. Three of the claims were brought in lawsuits; two of the cases featured complaints made to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

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The largest settlement involved Pamela Besold, a lesbian Boston police lieutenant who alleged in a suit filed in Suffolk Superior Court in 2019 that she was “denied numerous promotions and assignments and received less favorable treatment than her male colleagues.” She received $950,000 from the city in late June.

In June 2017, she complained to a superintendent, Frank Mancini, who was running the department’s Bureau of Professional Standards and Development at the time, “that a male sergeant detective was using profane language that was disparaging to women,” according to the suit. She was then transferred out of her unit. The superintendent filed an internal affairs complaint against Besold, who was placed on administrative leave.

“Throughout her career, Besold has been denied assignments and promotions in favor of less qualified, junior male and heterosexual officers,” according to her suit.

In court filings, she asserted that another supervisor, Sergeant Detective Brian Riley, had used misogynistic and homophobic slurs. According to a court filing, Riley “denied everything.” Mancini also denied allegations and was dismissed as a defendant in the case in 2021, court records show. Both Mancini and Riley have retired from the department.

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According to court filings, months after Besold complained, she was involuntarily transferred from the recruit investigation unit to the department’s civil rights unit.

“That assignment isolated Besold with no other detectives in the unit, it stalled her career advancement and sent the message to her that she should stop complaining and/or opposing discrimination,” according to her suit.

In a telephone interview last week, Besold’s attorney, Beth Myers, said, “When the department got an opportunity to smack her down, they took it.”

Myers said the settlement figure reflected “the possibility that we could have had a really significant jury verdict.”

According to Besold’s litigation, Mancini filed an official complaint against her in 2017 with the department’s internal affairs division. The allegation was that Besold, who is white, had referred to William Gross, a Black man who was then the department’s chief, as “a monkey,” according to court documents. (Gross would go on to become the city’s first Black police commissioner.)

Besold was placed on administrative leave, and her badge, gun, and cruiser were taken away from her. In court filings, Besold vehemently denied the allegation. She said the complaint was born out of a conversation with a fellow sergeant detective during which she discussed a recent lecture she had attended on intersectionality and power structure regarding race and gender.

At one point, according to Besold, she said something to the effect of “if you want something done, you go to the organ grinder,” a reference to a Winston Churchill quote. Besold alleges she was referring to then-police commissioner William Evans, who is white, and at no point made any reference to Gross. In court filings, Besold said her “commitment and passion for social justice is well known within the department.”

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Besold was on administrative leave for more than a year and asserts in court filings that the department’s past failures to promote her “has been motivated by a desire to discriminate and/or retaliate against her.”

In a Friday statement, a Wu spokesperson said, “Like other large employers and municipalities, the City resolves claims via settlement. In deciding whether and how to settle a claim, the City considers several factors, including the potential expense to taxpayers, the risk and uncertainty of litigation, the allocation of limited staff resources, and the opportunity for remedial measures.”

In another discrimination case that the city settled, Thelma DaSilva, who previously worked for the Boston Public Schools communications department, alleged she was discriminated against on the basis of her sex and pregnancy. She was fired in June 2016, days after receiving a positive performance evaluation, according to court filings. DaSilva alleged in a lawsuit filed in 2018 that she was offered a job in a different department of BPS, but the offer was “rescinded due to inaccurate and retaliatory information.” She received $750,000 from the city in Aprilto settle that case.

In 2015, she filed a complaint with the city’s office of equity regarding her supervisor, saying she was unfairly scrutinized. She said within days of her supervisor becoming aware of her complaint, her boss began to openly retaliate against her in various ways. Specifically, she said, he significantly delayed approving her maternity leave. After she filed a second complaint alleging discrimination and retaliation to the city’s office of equity, DaSilva learned she was placed on a “do not hire” list.

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In another BPS case that dates back more than a decade, an English teacher in East Boston accused a student of sexually harassing her. After that, she received a written warning, which she alleges was related to a retaliatory campaign orchestrated by the school principal. In a lawsuit filed in 2015, she alleged another student threatened to assault her. She alleged that her school principal told her that “her primary identity in the classroom was as a teacher and her identity of ‘womanhood’ was secondary.” The Globe does not name accusers of sexual harassment or sexual assault without their consent.

In 2012, the teacher filed a complaint against the principal with the district’s equity office “alleging sex discrimination, student sexual harassment, and retaliation.”

The principal allegedly issued the teacher a written letter of reprimand the same day as that complaint, according to legal filings. The city settled that case for $200,000 in January.

A third discrimination case involving Boston Public Schools resulted in a settlement by the city with Ofelia Pedraza in early August for $250,000. According to a complaint filed with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, Pedraza, who declined to comment for this story, was most recently an assistant to the director of newcomers assessment and counseling center at BPS. She alleged that she was fired in 2017 because of her age and in retaliation for a prior complaint with the MCAD.

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Another discrimination case centered on William Devin, a city bridge operator who was hospitalized for treatment of COVID-19 in 2020. In a complaint filed with the MCAD, he said he had long COVID, and that once he returned to work from his illness, the city mishandled a scheduling change request he made that would have better accommodated his health problems.

Devin alleged that he requested to work the day shift for the first few months of his return to work, as medical experts said working nights would exacerbate his symptoms. Instead, his schedule included some night shifts. Months later, he was subjected to an internal investigation, based on management’s allegation that he had worked 49 minutes of overtime but claimed an hour. He thought that proceeding was retaliation for him requesting a reasonable accommodation.

The city settled the matter for $10,000 in May.

Devin said over the phone last week that he is glad the matter is over and accused city officials of treating his condition “like an ankle injury and not something as severe” as it was. He lamented city officials’ conduct during his COVID recovery.

”It was a whole scumbag thing,” he said.


Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him @Danny__McDonald.