(Note: the total payout with interest has been updated.)
A Middlesex Superior Court jury ruled in favor of former Watertown Police Det. Kathleen Donohue in the civil suit for sexual discrimination and retaliation while she was a member of the Watertown Police Department. She was awarded more than $4 million in damages, back pay and future earnings.
Donohue alleged that she was subject to jokes, remarks, and vulgar displays from members of the Watertown Police, and also testified that she had a relationship with a superior officer who controller her employment and he did not disclose the relationship. She said she reported the incidents to the Town of Watertown’s Personnel Department but the only result she saw was a one-hour course on sexual discrimination in the workplace.
Donohue also described her experience nearly being hit by gunfire as she approached the boat where one of the Boston Marathon bombers was captured. She joined the WPD in 1998 and was the first female detective and the fourth woman officer in Watertown.
The verdict came on Thursday afternoon after more than a week of testimony, including two days of testimony by Donohue. The jury found that Donohue proved that it was “more likely true than not that the Defendant Town of Watertown/Watertown Police Department discriminated against her on the basis of her gender,” the jury’s verdict slip read. Also, that “it is more likely true than not that the Defendant Town of Watertown/Watertown Police Department retaliated against her.”
Ellen Zucker, the lead attorney from Burns & Levinson representing Donohue, said that she hopes the ruling goes beyond the case to other communities and police departments.
“It is an honor to represent someone like Kathy Donohue. She was an extraordinarily good detective, even the Town didn’t challenge that,” Zucker said. “She and women in policing generally should not have to run the gauntlets she had to run just to do her job. I hope the Town of Watertown and police departments around the Commonwealth heed this as a warning call and stop turning a blind eye to the discrimination and retaliation they see in their ranks.”
Watertown City Manager George Proakis said that the case is still considered a legal matter, so he could not comment.
The jury awarded Donohue $452,094 in lost compensation from October 2016 to the present, as well as $2,268,935 in future pay and benefits, according to the verdict slip.
For emotional distress she has already endured, the jury awarded her $250,000, and another $375,000 for future emotional distress.
In addition, the jury ruled that she should receive punitive damages because it was “more likely true than not that the conduct of the Defendant Town of Watertown/Watertown Police Department was outrageous or egregious,” according to the verdict slip. The jury awarded her $1 million.
In total the jury awarded Donohue $4,346,029.
One of Donohue’s attorneys, Laura Studen from Burns & Levinson, said that the $1 million in punitive damages “says it all.” In addition, Donohue will also receive more than $260,762 in interest, and will have her attorneys’ fees of about $1 million covered (which are subject to petition).
“All in, ($5.56 million),” Studen said. “And she deserved every penny.”
Donohue first approached Burns & Levinson in 2017, and Zucker said that her client did not want to go to court.
“Kathy Donohue wanted nothing more than to be a detective in the Watertown Police Department, and the Town made it impossible,” Zucker said. “Going to court was not her first option, it was her last.”