Police Captain Wins $1.5 Million Jury Verdict In Retaliation Claim

William Broderick was a captain with the Boston Police Department. In 1988, Broderick was elected to become president of the Superior Officers Union, a full-time position he held until 2000. For the 12 years he was president of the Union, the atmosphere between Broderick and Police Commissioner Paul Evans was one of “conflict and distrust,” including “public charges and lawsuits by Broderick, and on the Department’s side, disciplinary proceedings against Broderick and orders that he undergo psychiatric examinations.”

When Broderick lost his bid for reelection as Union president in 2000, Evans appointed him as a supervisor of cases in Suffolk County Superior Court, a position normally given to a sergeant. Broderick continued to be the subject of actions he thought to be retaliatory in nature.

In April 2002, after an internal affairs investigation cleared him of the latest set of charges, the Department told Broderick he could go back to work in two days but that he had to submit to a physical and psychiatric examination. Broderick objected to the examination, did not attend it or various hearings on pending disciplinary charges, was given brief suspensions, and his physical and mental health began to deteriorate.

At the beginning of August 2002, Broderick advised the City he would be seeking early retirement and asked that further disciplinary action be placed on hold. Though Broderick applied for a disability retirement, Evans refused to postpone the pending disciplinary action. Eventually, the Department terminated Broderick in November 2002.

Broderick responded with a federal court lawsuit contending that his termination was in response to complaints he had made about overtime abuses. After a seven-day trial in April 2006, the jury found in favor of Broderick on all three counts in his complaint. The jury awarded him $211,000 in back pay, $791,000 in forward pay (lost wages in the future), and compensation of $563,626 to cover taxes on the award. The trial court precluded the jury from awarding punitive damages, finding that the evidence did not support the necessary heightened showing for the recovery of such damages.

The trial judge concluded the proceedings by awarding Broderick his attorney’s fees. Both the City and Broderick then appealed.

The heart of the City’s argument on appeal was that no reasonable jury could have found that Broderick’s discharge was “substantially motivated” by an aim to retaliate for either his reports of overtime abuses or any of the lawsuits he filed against the Department. The Appeals Court found that though the evidence of retaliation was slight, there was enough evidence to warrant upholding the verdict:

“Some of Broderick’s activities may have been justified; others, less so, but either way he was clearly a difficult subordinate. He publicly accused Evans and the Department of racism in one episode and improper searches and seizures in another; he refused to cooperate in the investigation of overtime abuses that he had himself prompted; he refused to show up for hearings; he quarreled with other officers; and he brought multiple lawsuits against Evans and others.

“So Evans and the City would in any event have had reason for wishing Broderick gone, but both of the assertedly protected activities caused further trouble for Evans and, in assigning weight to possible motives, the jury had evidence that Evans, the City, or both had been found in the wrong as to Broderick’s promotions; that Evans had made critical remarks about Broderick’s integrity; that psychological testing was not required in all accidental firearm discharge cases such as Broderick’s; and that deferring discipline to allow retirement is a common practice.

“Because there were good as well as more doubtful reasons for wanting Broderick terminated, a certain amount of intuition is required in discerning the mix of motives. The trial court judge seems to have thought that Broderick’s case was thin, as to weight, and the jury may have felt that Broderick was unfairly treated in respects independent of his lawsuit or overtime dispute. But we cannot say that the jury was irrational in concluding that protected conduct played enough of a role in the mix to support a verdict.”

The Court also turned away Broderick’s argument that there was enough evidence to justify an award of punitive damages. The Court found that an award of punitive damages would have been inappropriate in the absence of direct evidence that Evans acted in whole or in part to retaliate, and the lack of any evidence that Evans had a conscious purpose to violate the law.

Broderick v. Evans, 570 F.3d 68 (1st Cir. 2009).

This article appears in the August 2009 issue