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Boston agrees to settle police gender discrimination case for $2.4 million, lawyer says

The city has reached a $2.4 million settlement with a former high-ranking female police commander who sued in federal court claiming gender discrimination, a hostile work environment, and retaliation, according to her lawyer.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

The city of Boston has reached a $2.4 million settlement with a former high-ranking female police commander, who sued in federal court claiming gender discrimination, a hostile work environment, and retaliation, according to her lawyer.

Beth Donovan, the first woman to reach the rank of deputy superintendent of the police department’s Bureau of Field Services, alleged that top officials within the department falsely accused her of having a drinking problem, placed her on administrative leave, and demoted her as punishment for making complaints against high-ranking male officers, according to a lawsuit filed in November 2020, according to court papers.

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The parties reached a settlement on Thursday, just four days before the case was set to go to trial in US District Court in Boston. The agreement was first reported by Law360, an online news outlet.

“Beth Donovan took on the Boston Police Department simply to demand fair treatment as a woman leader there,” her lawyer, Nick Carter, of Todd & Weld, said Tuesday in an e-mailed statement to the Globe. “She is pleased with the result and hopes this helps women who remain at the BPD and those who come after. Hopefully with Donovan’s case and some of the other women who have recently been successful in suing for discrimination, like Donna Gavin, the BPD will start to change and women won’t be punished for demanding fair and equal treatment.”

Gavin was a Boston police detective who was awarded $2 million in a gender discrimination suit in 2021 by a federal jury.

Boston Police Department officials did not respond to a request for comment about the settlement.

Mayor Michelle Wu’s office on Tuesday evening said they would not comment until all settlement documents have been signed.

Donovan, a 27-year veteran of the department, “has been devastated by BPD’s actions, and her career has been destroyed,” according to court documents.

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Donovan’s issues at work began in June 2017 after she called 911 about a rowdy graduation party at the home of her neighbor and fellow police officer, Lieutenant Richard Driscoll, court filings show.

When Donovan asked Driscoll, who was allegedly heavily intoxicated, to get the party under control, he threw a can of beer at Donovan’s feet, filings state. He also allegedly called her a string of profanities, followed her home, and tried to force his way into her house, prompting her to call 911, according to court documents.

Donovan next initiated an internal affairs investigation against Driscoll, which triggered retaliatory treatment and reputational harm, according to her lawsuit.

Then head of internal affairs Frank Mancini and then-Police Commissioner William Evans “began a campaign to ruin Donovan’s career and to sideline her professionally,” according to court filings.

They began “belittling her behind her back, spreading rumors that she had an alcohol abuse problem, ostracizing her within the Command Staff, and taking away her authority to fulfill her job as Deputy Superintendent,” according to court documents. “Donovan palpably felt this erosion of her standing with the Commissioner and Mancini and others on the Command Staff, and it took an enormous physical and emotional toll on her.”

Donovan was placed on paid administrative leave in May 2018. Four months later, in September 2018, she was returned to the rank of sergeant and placed on paid medical leave, court records show.

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Donovan will be required to retire from the department as part of the settlement, Carter said.

The city denied the allegations of discrimination, retaliation, and a hostile work environment, in a pre-trial memorandum filed Dec. 8.

“Donovan has a documented history of untruthfulness and misuse of her position” and has been the subject of numerous complaints, the memo said.

Donovan sought more than $1 million for emotional distress, between $700,000 and $2,250,000 in lost wages, and an undisclosed amount for punitive damages.


Tonya Alanez can be reached at tonya.alanez@globe.com. Follow her @talanez.