Jury Orders Phila. Schools to Pay Firm $2.3 Million in Bias Suit

Martha Woodall and Jeremy Roebuck, Philly, June 28, 2016

A federal jury entered a $2.3 million judgment against the Philadelphia School District and the late Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman on Monday, finding that she discriminated against a Bucks County company by steering a $7.5 million no-bid contract to a smaller, minority-owned firm that had not sought the work.

Newtown-based Security & Data Technologies Inc. (SDT) filed the racial discrimination suit after, it said, Ackerman and the School District “deselected” it in 2010 for a contract to install surveillance cameras at 19 schools that the state had deemed “persistently dangerous.”

The company, which had begun preliminary work, said Ackerman changed course and ordered the emergency contract be awarded to IBS Communications, which was not on a state list of companies eligible for no-bid contracts.

Ackerman told several administrators at a meeting in September 2010 that she was sick of the district’s giving work to contractors who she said did not look like her.

John Byars, a former top district procurement official, said Ackerman also said at the meeting that she would make sure that “all these white boys didn’t get contracts.” She asked why “a black firm [couldn’t] get it,” and directed that the job be given to IBS.

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SDT is owned by two white men.

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At the time the contract was awarded to IBS, the district was exceeding its goal of 20 percent participation of minority firms in its contracts. But administrators said that then-SRC Chairman Robert Archie and other commission members repeatedly called for awarding more contracts to companies owned by minorities and women.

SDT had said it intended to hire minority subcontractors to perform 33 percent of the work for the project it expected to perform.

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