The Massachusetts Appeals Court today upheld an award of more than $850,000 for an MBTA supervisor forced into retirement as the culmination of a ten-year grudge by a Green Line track worker who worked his way up the ranks after the supervisor reported him for filing for overtime pay for work he didn't do.
The court said it agreed with a Suffolk Superior Court jury and judge that Thomas Tryon was entitled to the damages under the state whistleblower law after proving that the worker - promoted from track worker to supervisor despite having no supervisory experience, deviously pulled MBTA bureaucratic strings to get Tryon fired.
The amount represents $277,919 in lost wages, trebled as punishment, and $22,081 for emotional distress. It does not include interest since Tryon won his case in 2018, nor does it include the attorney's fees the court ruled his lawyers are entitled to, for which they now have to file a claim.
At the heart of the case were three MBTA supervisors: Tryon, who at one time oversaw track work on all four subway lines, Patrick Kineavy, who worked his way up from track workers on the Green Line to ultimately become Tryon's boss, and Stephen Trychon, to whom Kineavy directly reported. The drama started in August, 2001, when Tryon reported Kineavy and three other workers for putting in for overtime for a job they didn't show up for. Kineavy and the others had their pay docked; Kineavy repeatedly pestered the investigators looking into the case and, when that didn't work, complained directly to then MBTA General Manager Mike Mulhern.
In following years, Tryon took a lateral transfer to superintendent of training for track maintenance workers, while Kineavy got upgraded to superintendent for Green Line track work, despite his lack of supervisory experience, which put him at the same supervisory level as Tryon and then, in 2010, to a position that made him Tryon's direct supervisor.
The court summarizes what happened, in explaining why it agreed the case was replete with the "evil motive" and "reckless indifference" on the part of Kineavy, Trychon and the MBTA itself:
The judge could reasonably have found that both evil motive and reckless indifference were present here.
The judge's findings regarding Kineavy's motives were well supported. The judge found that Kineavy led a "year-long campaign of complaints against Mr. Tryon" in 2001 and 2002 after Tryon reported the overtime abuse, a campaign that the judge found was "revenge" for Tryon's report, and was an effort to "cow" Tryon from looking into overtime abuse in the future. Kineavy carried the grudge against Tryon for nearly a decade. As soon as he was in a position of authority, Kineavy disparaged Tryon to Trychon, and recommended moving Tryon to nights to force Tryon to retire. When that did not work, Kineavy ultimately recommended, successfully, the elimination of Tryon's position. He engineered the timing of the layoff to block Tryon from applying for the open Green Line position, accelerating the end of Tryon's career at the MBTA. He then enlisted Trychon to cover up his involvement, thus effectively concealing his role from Tryon. The damage done was willful, malicious, and substantial. ...
Whether the MBTA also acted with reckless indifference presents a closer question, but we conclude that the evidence was sufficient for the judge to conclude that the MBTA's acts and omissions were "so egregious that [they] warrant public condemnation and punishment" to "deter such behavior." Haddad, 455 Mass. at 111. "Reckless" means "marked by a lack of caution" and "careless. . . of consequences. " Webster's Third New Int'l Dictionary 1896(2002). "Indifferent" means "marked by a total or nearly total lack of interest ... or concern. ... " Id. at 1151. The evidence supports a finding that the MBTA was indifferent to Kineavy's qualifications and competence and the impact of Kineavy's actions on Tryon, adopted Kineavy's recommendations without caution, and was careless of the consequences. The judge found that the MBTA systematically and rapidly promoted Kineavy, an unqualified person with no supervisory experience, into ever higher positions of responsibility and authority. The MBTA was on notice of Kineavy's 2001-2002 campaign against Tryon at the highest levels --his letters had been copied to the MBTA's then general manager and investigated. Kineavy's manager, Trychon, adopted Kineavy's recommendations regarding Tryon and assisted Kineavy in obscuring his role in these decisions, all without making any effort to verify the basis for Kineavy's recommendations. There is naught in the record to indicate that Trychon ever made an inquiry into the basis for Kineavy's escalating criticism of and attacks on Tryon. There is equally scant evidence to support Kineavy's allegations regarding Tryon's character and performance, and the judge found Kineavy to be wholly lacking in credibility on this subject. Indeed, the only evidence credited by the judge establishes that Tryon was a good employee; in addition to steady promotions up the ladder throughout his career, he received an award for "outstanding performance" from the Governor in 2008.