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Former judges claim unequal pay, retaliation during Deval Patrick’s tenure

Former state senator Cheryl Jacques.
Former state senator Cheryl Jacques. John Tlumacki/file

As former governor Deval Patrick runs for president, he faces the uncomfortable prospect of being deposed in a lawsuit over gender discrimination and retaliation filed by three women he appointed as judges.

The onetime administrative judges say their performance reviews plummeted and they were not reappointed after they complained that a new male judge had been hired at a higher salary and offered a downtown Boston parking space. Patrick’s labor secretary allegedly defended the pay disparity by telling the women’s supervisor, “We have to pay him; he’s our only black judge,” the suit claims.

The case, scheduled for trial in Suffolk Superior Court in June, was filed by former state senator Cheryl Jacques, whom Patrick appointed to a six-year term as an administrative judge at the Department of Industrial Accidents in 2008, and Cristina P. Carrier and Kalina Vendetti, both of whom Patrick appointed to the same agency in 2010.

All three are suing their supervisor, senior judge Omar Hernandez, who they say retaliated against them after they spoke up about the pay disparity.

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A Patrick spokeswoman said their claims are without merit and noted that a Superior Court judge had already dismissed retaliation claims Jacques made directly against Patrick.

“Governor Patrick has spent his career fighting for equality and opportunity, in and out of the workplace,” said communications director Aleigha Cavalier. “These accusations are completely without merit or evidence. Anyone can sue a governor and have their case dismissed, which is what happened here.”

Nonetheless, the case shows how workplace issues can haunt a presidential candidate who was chief executive of a Commonwealth that employs 100,000 people. Though Patrick left office nearly five years ago, the case has dragged into his campaign for president. A hearing is planned next month on the issue of his deposition, which Attorney General Maura Healey is opposing on his behalf.

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In dismissing Jacques’s claims against Patrick, a Superior Court judge found that she failed to establish that Patrick had acted with an intent to discriminate or as a result of her salary complaint when he decided not to reappoint her. But Jacques maintains Patrick’s testimony is vital to the case against Hernandez, since he is the only one who can explain what influenced his decision.

“There’s no doubt in my mind the governor knew exactly what was going on and was upset that we questioned his decision to pay this male judge more than the female judges,” Jacques said in an interview.

The dispute began when Michael Williams, who is black, was appointed a judge in 2013 with a starting salary of $101,500 and a free parking space. Jacques, who had been hired at a salary of $94,700, was making roughly the same amount by that time. However, Carrier, who had been hired at $92,000, and Vendetti, at $90,000, were both still earning less, according to the suit. The women had all been employed at least three years longer than Williams, and none had been offered a parking space, the suit states.

Jacques said that Williams’s higher pay and parking space were viewed as enticements to take a position as an administrative judge. He already had free downtown parking as director of labor relations in the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, the department confirmed.

“The word is, Deval wants a black judge in there,” said Jacques. “ ‘Do what it takes’ is what everyone is hearing.”

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The suit alleges it was Hernandez who spread the word about the pay disparity, telling the women they were making less than the new hire and encouraging them to raise the issue. But tensions grew when they met with Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Joanne Goldstein.

“She cut us off and said, ‘I assume you all want to be reappointed,’ ” Jacques recalled. “And everything went downhill after that.”

The attorney general’s office, which is defending Hernandez, declined to comment. A spokesman for the Department of Industrial Accidents also declined to comment and said that Williams and Hernandez would not comment. Hernandez has been reappointed by Governor Charlie Baker since the suit was filed.

When the women filed similar claims at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, the Department of Industrial Accidents denied discriminating and noted that judges were paid a wide range of salaries.

The department also noted that Jacques was hired at a higher rate than her two counterparts and that two additional female judges who were hired after Williams started at higher salaries. The salary structure was later standardized to prevent frustration among judges, a 2013 letter filed in Suffolk Superior Court shows.

Cavalier, the Patrick spokeswoman, said his administration had “inherited an ambiguous policy for setting the salary” of the department’s administrative judges. “The administration helped form a working group to fix that system, and enthusiastically embraced and implemented the solutions the group came up with,” she said.

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Jacques acknowledged the differences in salaries, but said the greater hardship occurred after they challenged the pay discrepancies with the secretary.

“The real issue is the retaliation that followed. The retaliation was horrendous because we had spoken up,” Jacques said.

Hernandez limited Jacques’s ability to manage her own hearing schedule, gave her lower ratings on her performance review, and even briefly initiated proceedings to have her removed, humiliating her and forcing her to hire a lawyer, she alleged.

Carrier and Vendetti said Hernandez would not approve reimbursement for their mileage, downgraded their performance reviews, and refused to answer calls or e-mails, even about cases on the docket. As a result, they say, they faced a hostile working environment and were hobbled in their ability to succeed in their jobs or make a case for their reappointment.

The women — all of whom had been fervent Patrick supporters — came away from their tenure embittered by the experience and stunned the governor did not stand up for equal pay.

Jacques said she repeatedly alerted his legal counsel that they were being retaliated against.

“We got no support from Deval Patrick, and I knew him. I knew his people and they knew me,” said Vendetti, a former community activist who helped organize one of his earliest community campaign events and who once considered herself a “Deval Patrick zealot.” “It would have been easy for Deval to say, ‘Make this right.’ ”

Carrier recalls being made to feel like they were “pesky” and “disloyal” for speaking up.

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“When it first happened, I came home and told my husband, ‘I could lose my job over this,’ ” Carrier recalled. He assured her she wouldn’t, saying, “This is Massachusetts. This is Deval Patrick.”


Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at Stephanie.Ebbert@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @StephanieEbbert.