City employee awarded $10.9m in discrimination case
A Suffolk Superior Court jury awarded nearly $10.9 million to a longtime City of Boston employee Friday after deciding the worker faced discrimination while working in the city’s Treasury Department.
Chantal Charles, described as having African-American and Haitian ancestry, claimed she received fewer benefits and lower pay than white co-workers and endured retaliation through less-favorable job evaluations after filing a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination in 2011.
The jury awarded Charles, a senior administrative assistant in the Treasury Department, $10 million in punitive damages, along with $500,000 for emotional distress and nearly $389,000 in additional pay.
“I hope that this jury verdict will convince the city to take a good hard look at [its] hiring practices,” said attorney Emma Quinn-Judge, who represented Charles.
Through her attorneys, Charles declined to comment.
Laura Oggeri, spokeswoman for Mayor Martin J. Walsh, said in a brief e-mail statement that the events alleged in the suit happened under a previous administration, and that the city will probably appeal.
The jury’s award is higher than the verdict in a discrimination case in Cambridge. The Massachusetts Court of Appeals in 2011 upheld a jury decision awarding $4.5 million against the city, after a former employee accused management of racial discrimination.
In the past, the city has settled cases alleging rights violations. In 2014, the city paid Shawn Drumgold $5 million to settle his wrongful conviction lawsuit after he spent 14 years in prison for a shooting he didn’t commit.
Charles was hired by the city in 1986. She spent most of the following years in the Trust Division of the Treasury Department, where she helped oversee the Edward Ingersoll Browne Fund for beautification grants for public spaces. She said she had management responsibilities and a flexible schedule to accommodate her children’s day care and school schedules.
But after the Trust Division office was relocated within City Hall in the late 1990s, Charles said she began facing discrimination from a supervisor, Vivian Leo, who is the city’s first assistant collector-treasurer. In a court complaint, Leo is described as white.
Charles alleged that Leo forbade Charles from using her management title and denied her overtime pay, flexible hours, or transportation benefits that Charles said were received by employees who were not black or Haitian. Charles has the same job title she had in 1986.
Charles also claimed that Leo ordered a supervisor to issue a poor evaluation, and when that supervisor refused, Leo filed a less-favorable evaluation against that employee.
Quinn-Judge said Leo would refer to Charles as “aloof” and “uppity.”
“People can interpret that in different ways, but one way to interpret that is with a racial overtone,” Quinn-Judge said.
Oggeri, the mayor’s spokeswoman, said Leo will remain in her position.
Leo could not be reached for comment Friday night.
Charles’s attorneys said Charles tried to raise concerns about the way she was treated to other supervisors but was unable to overturn Leo’s decisions. Charles’s first formal complaint was to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination in 2011.
In a report on the city’s workforce issued earlier this year, analysts found that the city’s Treasury Department was among the least diverse, with white workers constituting more than two-thirds of the department.