City’s Motions for New Trial & Reduce Damages Fail in Sexual Discrimination Suit by Female Police Officer

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(Note: The original story incorrectly said the City appealed the original decision. The City filed post-trial motions.)

A Middlesex Superior Court Judge denied the City of Watertown’s motions to seek a new trial in the civil suit case filed by a former female police officer who won her suit against the Police Department for sexual discrimination and retaliation.

On May 19, Judge John P. Pappas released his ruling on the post-trial motions to the case in which a jury ruled in favor of Kathleen Donohue in November. The jury in that case awarded Watertown’s first female detective $1 million in punitive damages, plus $2.26 million in future earnings and $1.22 million to cover her legal fees and costs.

Pappas denied the new trial or to overturn the jury’s decision and/or award. He also accepted some of Donohue’s request for attorney fees and costs, but not the full amount requested.

The City did not appeal the original decision, but still has the opportunity to appeal the case to the State Appeals Court.

New Trial Denied

The City sought to either overturn the verdict or have a new trial. According to the court’s ruling, “A jury’s verdict must be sustained if a plaintiff has presented any evidence from which the jury could have made their findings.”

For a new trial, there must be a situation where the verdict is “so greatly against the weight of the evidence as to induce in [the court’s] mind the strong belief that it was the product of bias, misapprehension or prejudice.”

During the trial, Donohue said that she had been closing in the area of the boat on Franklin Street in which Boston Marathon Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was hiding, and she and other officers were “surrounded by gunfire” when police fired at the boat. She said her injured-on-duty applications were repeatedly denied, while other male officers had received treatment because they had discharged their weapon during the incident, according to the court ruling.

Donohue also claimed that she was the subject of an internal investigation that was later abandoned, according to the court document. She also said she was removed from duties.

The City’s attorneys motion said the jury’s decision and said there was “no evidence for discriminatory animus or causation.” In his ruling, Pappas said that the jury could have used several pieces of evidence in their finding that the Donohue had endured sexually discriminated, including: that more-junior male officers were promoted ahead of her; that she was assigned desk work as soon as she became pregnant “despite there being no medical necessity for such assignment,” the ruling said; that the WPD did not send her to hospital, give her time off, or provide mental health services following the shootings on Franklin Street; or, because she was removed from the rape aggression defense (RAD) program. The ruling also said the jury “could have found the Town’s charges of insubordination against Donohue suggested discriminatory animus.”

Judge Pappas’ ruling said that the City of Watertown’s motions to have a new trial failed, adding, “The trial evidence amply supports a finding of a discriminatory animus.”

In the claim of retaliation, the judge wrote that: “The jury could have found that Donohue was subject to adverse employment action on multiple and varied occasions, spanning a number of years.” Some examples cited were: that her injured-on-duty applications were rejected, that she was the subject of an internal investigation that was later abandoned, and that “she was subject to an emergency suspension for insubordination and subsequent formal disciplinary action,” Pappas wrote.

The ruling reads:

“Though the Town may contend that its conduct was all in good faith, it is what the jury may have found in favor of Donohue that governs the court’s review at this stage … Considering the foregoing, the jury’s verdict in favor of Donohue on her claim of retaliation … is supported by the evidence.”


In another motion, the City sought to reduce the amount Donohue was awarded.

“Considering the totality of the evidence heard by the jury, there was overwhelming evidence to support their award of punitive damages,” the ruling reads.

The jury awarded $1 million in damages because of the “outrageous or egregious conduct by the Town.” Pappas wrote: “The jury could have found that Donohue’s injured-on-leave applications were arbitrarily denied, that she was targeted in a meritless internal investigation, and that she was suspended without cause.”

He added that: “They could have found that Donohue was subject to continued and ongoing derogatory comments and rumor based on gender, including that she was not fit to serve as police officer because she was a woman.”

Also, the ruling states that the jury, “could have found that the Town and the WPD feigned investigation into Donohue’s formal complaints of gender harassment, stringing her along with empty promises of some final resolution, when neither ever intended to impose any consequences for the pervasive gender discriminatory treatment of which Donohue complained.”

Fees and Costs

The award of front pay, or loss of future earnings, of $2.26 million, which includes salary until retirement and pension for the rest of her life, was also contested by the City. The figure was based on Donohue working until age 60, when she would reach her maximum pension and paying pension through age 85.

“By the court’s calculation, the evidence supported a front pay of at least the amount awarded,” the judgment reads.

Finally, the City sought to reduce the attorney’s fees and costs. Donohue’s attorneys sought $1.22 million in fees and costs for almost 2,480 hours of work.

“Though Donohue’s timekeeping records contain a number of instances of block billing, which the court generally disfavors, the court still finds that the records fairly and accurately describe the work performed and the substantial fee award is warranted given Donohue’s counsel’s experience, performance at trial, and results obtained,” the ruling reads.

The judge ruled that the some of the billing rates were too high. The amount allowed for the attorneys fees was reduced to $1.01 million. The court also reduced the costs charged by Donohue’s attorneys slightly from $61,193.97 to $60,675.75.

4 thoughts on “City’s Motions for New Trial & Reduce Damages Fail in Sexual Discrimination Suit by Female Police Officer

  1. WOW!

    Not good news.

    Watertown so needs gifted, sensible and savvy leadership. We
    have none of that these days. They cannot even get a simple
    telephone pole install at the temp HS correct.

    Most citizens won’t even know how much this settlement eats into their Town tax dollars.

    • Anyone who COMMITS CRIMES by discriminating against women in the workplace should be punished. A jury found that such crimes were, in fact, committed over a long period of years in the Watertown Police Dept. The repeated discriminatory acts that Ms. Donohue endured were soul-destroying in ways that the men who committed them may never understand. But they and the Watertown Police Dept. are rightly being held accountable for FOLLOWING THE LAW. If the city doesn’t want to pay such awards, it should change its policies about behavior in the workplace and punish people who commit illegal acts.

    • All of this happened under Driscoll and Lawn and has nothing to do with the current leadership in Watertown. Even the recent WPD officer that was indicted for rape happened under Watertowns old leadership. George is doing a great job in his first year trying to clean up the personnel mess that he was handed.

      Maybe the WPD can host a fundraiser to help cover the cost of the case to lower the burden on the Watertown tax payers ?

      • Thank you for the context, and I hope this behavior remains in the past. My point was merely that the city *should* be held liable for workplace discrimination and allowing a hostile work environment for women; these serious crimes are often dismissed as unimportant while people complain about the monetary impact.

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