Sunday, October 30, 2011

Monteiro: Unexpurgated letter from the former head of the Cambridge, MA, Women’s Commission

I am very hesitant about using names if I can avoid it. Under the current situation, there seems no alternative and, taking her communication in context, it would appear that the source would find it acceptable to use her name.

The following letter was posted on the Cambridgeport listserve as part of a series of communications on the Monteiro / Cambridge City Manager situation.

Laura Blackwell is passing a letter from Nancy Ryan, the former head of the Women’s Commission which corresponds to the oped published by the Cambridge Chronicle on line which I have digested. I have not checked to ensure the two communications are identical. I have omitted Laura and Nancy’s email addresses and Nancy’s phone number.


Got this letter from a person I really respect. Laura


Dear Cambridge Friends—

I am deeply disturbed by the remarks of most Cambridge City Councilors that the issues raised in the Malvina Monteiro case are not serious enough to merit their concern. Most of the non-incumbents seem to share this dismissive attitude toward a case of racial discrimination that led to a jury’s verdict of retaliation at the highest levels of the city’s administration. The retaliation occurred after Monteiro filed a formal discrimination complaint. Councilors’ recent comments impel me to offer a very different perspective – one informed by my values and by my own experiences during the 13-year effort to bring these issues to the attention of City officials.

We must ask ourselves --do we expect City government officials -- both elected and appointed -- to stand up for the right of employees to get a fair hearing when they complain of discrimination? Can we allow retaliation to silence the diverse experiences and points of view in our city’s workforce? Are these not serious issues for our City Council to act on?

The treatment of Malvina Monteiro, according to Superior Court Judge Bonnie MacLeod Mancuso, involved “a deliberate, systematic campaign to punish the plaintiff as a reprisal for her effrontery in lodging a discrimination claim.” The judge’s “Memorandum of Decision,” issued in April, 2009, affirms the jury’s unprecedented award of $4.5 million for back pay, emotional distress and punitive damages; it states: “The jury, proceeding on the collective sum of their experiences, appear to have worked their way to dollar amounts that reflect the jurors’ assessment of the reprehensibility of Healy’s conduct, and what it will take to deter like conduct in the future.” [I will provide the judge’s complete Memorandum to anyone who requests it.]

It is important to note that City Council members had this document in hand in the Spring, 2009. Yet according to the Cambridge Chronicle, only two Councilors (Decker and Reeves) urged the City Manager not to appeal and to look seriously at the implications of the jury’s and the judge’s decision regarding the treatment of this Cape Verdean woman, the Executive Secretary of the Police Review and Advisory Board. In August, 2011, the Massachusetts Appeals Court rejected the City’s appeal, and the final award ballooned to $8.3 million. And now the City has reached a settlement with two other employees of color involved in the original discrimination suit.

But it’s not even about the money – for me, it’s about the values by which we live and work in Cambridge. Councilor Davis stated in a recent candidates’ debate that these concerns about discrimination and retaliation are not serious; Councilor Toomey brushed them aside with the claim that there are secret truths about Monteiro yet to be revealed; Councilor Seidel admitted that he hadn’t read the judge’s commentary when he supported the city’s appeal; Councilor Simmons, Mayor at the time of the jury’s decision and issuance of the judge’s Memorandum, has maintained silence regarding her role in closed-door meetings. Please ask all the Councilors where they stood when they might have made a difference. And ask every candidate about the real issues of this case – the chilling effects of retaliation and the outright or tacit rejection of any responsibility for the City’s actions.

Nancy Ryan (Executive Director, Cambridge Women’s Commission, 1981-2006)

(Please feel free to share this with others who might care about these issues)

Nancy Ryan