Black treasury workers face discrimination, judge rules

Boston City Hall Plaza.
Boston City Hall Plaza.Keith Bedford/Globe Staff/file/Globe Staff

A Suffolk Superior Court judge has upheld a judgment against the city in a racial discrimination case, but slashed most of a $10 million punitive jury award because she ruled the amount was too high.

Despite the smaller award, Judge Elizabeth M. Fahey wrote late last month that black employees of the city’s Treasury Division have faced consistent discrimination on the job.

The division also failed to promote black employees beyond middle management for at least 16 years, she wrote. While there was one promotion of a black employee, Fahey wrote it could be inferred that the move was due to charges of discrimination.


In October, a jury awarded city worker Chantal Charles nearly $10.9 million in damages after finding Charles was “diminished and demeaned” because of her race and for her 2011 complaint to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, Fahey wrote. Fahey’s order came in response to the city’s motion for a new trial and a request for the damage award to be reduced.

Fahey reduced the punitive damage award to $2 million plus interest because it was not comparable to similar awards in other race discrimination cases. But she said the amount should still send “a necessary message of condemnation and deterrence” to the city.

Fahey also said the city owes Charles nearly $890,000 in compensatory and emotional distress damages as well as legal fees.

The city filed a two-page appeal with the court on Wednesday, seeking to overturn the judge’s decisions and the jury’s verdict in the case. City spokesperson Bonnie McGilpin would not comment on the appeal.

Charles, who still works in the Treasury Division, blamed Mayor Martin J. Walsh for not doing more to end racial discrimination at City Hall.

“He’s not taking it seriously because he’s not walking in my shoes,” Charles said of Walsh. McGilpin declined comment on this accusation.


Charles began working at City Hall in 1986 during the administration of Raymond L. Flynn but her longest stretch of employment was during Thomas M. Menino’s 20-year tenure as mayor.

Fahey found that Charles’s boss, Vivian Leo, stripped Charles of her job title, gave her poor reviews, passed her over for promotion, and prevented her from doing her job overseeing grant programs in the division.

Leo also referred to Charles, who is of Haitian descent, as “aloof, non-deferential and uppity,” the order states.

Leo, the city’s first assistant treasurer-collector, did not immediately return a message seeking comment left at her office.

According to state campaign records, Leo donated $1,500 to Menino, who died in 2014. Her retired husband, Vincent Leo, donated $2,000 to Menino and another $200 to Walsh in 2015.

Vincent Leo also donated $200 to former city councilor Robert Consalvo, who now works as a deputy director in the city’s Neighborhood Development office.

Leo’s subordinate, Richard DePiano, who often communicated Leo’s directives to Charles, was on vacation last week and unavailable for comment, according to the Treasury Department.

Court records show that those who tried to help Charles were punished. A former supervisor, Robert Fleming, took early retirement after receiving a poor job evaluation as punishment for refusing to issue bad marks against Charles.

And another supervisor, Andrew Niles, was fired for trying to obtain overtime pay for Charles, the judge wrote.

“There was ample evidence that the Treasury Division, led by Defendant Leo, ‘consistently discriminated against black employees,’ ” Fahey wrote.


Boston’s Treasury Department — which includes the Treasury Division — is among the least diverse agencies in city hall, according to a 2015 workforce report issued by Walsh’s administration.

According to city data, 68 percent of Treasury workers are white, while 20 percent are black. Hispanics represent 10 percent of the staff, with Asians making up the remaining 2 percent.

Juror Desiree R. Rackard was not happy to learn the $10 million punitive damage award had been reduced, as it was meant to send the city a stronger message that “it’s not OK to be discriminated against,” Rackard said.

Charles, however, said she trusts the judge’s decision.

“I feel happy, although it’s difficult going in there every day,” she said. “I still walk with my head high, knowing that I told my story.”

Maggie Mulvihill can be reached at mmulvih@bu.edu. Follow her on Twitter @maggiemulvihill. John Hilliard can be reached at john.m.hilliard@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @draillih.