Court Upholds Ruling for Officer Who Aided Coworker in Discrimination Claim

August 28, 2006 ( - The 1st US Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a jury's award of $300,000 in damages for a police lieutenant who claims he was retaliated against for helping a police officer file a sexual discrimination claim.

In its opinion the appellate court pointed out that the jury was reasonable in determining that the city’s justification for reassigning John McDonough and eventually placing him on leave were pretextual. On three separate occasions a supervisor had given three different reasons for reassigning McDonough to the day shift, which meant a pay cut and loss of his supervisory status.

Additionally, according to the court document, the city claimed it placed McDonough on leave pending a psychiatric evaluation because of safety concerns, but the jury found that the actions during and following McDonough’s notification of this leave were not consistent with concerns of safety.

The city also appealed the jury’s award, claiming that a previous state lawsuit lost by McDonough barred the jury from reaching a different decision on this federal civil rights case. In the previous lawsuit, McDonough had sued the city claiming his denial of promotion to captain was orchestrated by the mayor in retaliation of his aid to the other police officer. The appellate court rejected the city’s argument, noting the federal suit claimed different retaliation by different parties.

McDonough had been an officer with the Quincy, Massachusetts police department for almost 30 years when he learned of a female officer’s complaints of sexual harassment within the department. He presented her allegations of harassment to the mayor of the city, and no action was taken, according to the court document.

When he heard that the female officer was preparing to file a lawsuit against the city, he supplied her with the page of allegations he had presented to the mayor. Within days of being briefed on the lawsuit and learning of McDonough’s aid to the female officer, his superiors reassigned him from the night shift, supervising the drug enforcement unit, to the day shift where he had no supervisory duties.

After McDonough learned that he had also been stripped of his signing authorization for officers’ special pay circumstances and became upset, he was stripped of his firearm and placed on leave pending a psychiatric evaluation. After obtaining psychiatric approval to return to work, he filed a lawsuit claiming retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

A federal jury in district court found for McDonough and awarded him $300,000 in compensatory damages. The appellate court affirmed the jury’s verdict, but also remanded the case back to a jury to award punitive damages as well.

The opinion in McDonough v. City of Quincy can be read here .