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Former MBTA worker is awarded $2.65m over discrimination

A federal jury has awarded more than $2.6 million to a former MBTA Green Line employee who contended she was a victim of racial discrimination when she was fired in 2013, a verdict that lawyers for the transit agency had argued “no reasonable jury” could reach.

Michelle Dimanche had worked for the T for 13 years when she was terminated after enduring years of what she described in court papers as “demeaning and insulting remarks’’ from white supervisors who meted out less serious punishments to white MBTA employees.

“Defendants subjected Ms. Dimanche to racial harassment and discrimination,’’ according to her lawsuit, filed last year in US District Court in Boston. “No legitimate or justifiable business reason existed to warrant termination.”

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Dimanche’s attorney, Christopher J. Trombetta of Mansfield, said Monday he felt the jury respected his client, a mother of three, and her story.

“The harassment went on for a number of years,” Trombetta said. “She’s Haitian-American and they treated her poorly. They made fun of her accent, talked over her, made racists remarks, didn’t take her seriously, a lot of things like that came out in the evidence.”

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority contended that Dimanche was fired after a series of disciplinary actions. And agency officials maintained the incident that led to her termination represented the culmination of a long-running feud between her and another woman, both of whom are Haitian-American, over the same man. The feud dated to 1997, the MBTA said.

The transit agency also noted that the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination had investigated similar allegations by Dimanche and dismissed them after concluding her job performance, which the MBTA had properly documented, was a legitimate reason for her termination. The Commission Against Discrimination could not be reached Monday.

But after a short trial, in which Dimanche spent two days on the stand, the US District Court jury on Oct. 20 awarded Dimanche $1.325 million in compensatory damages and $1.3 million in punitive damages, according to court records. US District Court Judge William G. Young upheld the verdict Friday.

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In a statement, MBTA spokesman Joseph Pesaturo said the agency will seek to overturn the verdict.

“The MBTA will pursue its arguments before the trial court, and if necessary on appeal, to have this result reversed,’’ Pesaturo said. “With a workplace environment of fairness and equality in which all employees can excel, the MBTA is proud of its strong commitment to diversity in its multicultural workforce.’’


John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.