Philly Schools Ordered to Pay $2.3 Million in Discrimination Suit By White Firm

A company run by white men claims the district offered a minority firm work because of racial bias.

Arlene Ackerman

Former Philadelphia School District Superintendent Arlene Ackerman | Photo by Matt Rourke/AP

A federal jury has ordered the Philadelphia School District to pay $2.3 million in a discrimination case that involves late superintendent Arlene Ackerman.

The Newtown-based Security & Data Technologies Inc. filed suit in 2012 claiming Ackerman and the school district chose a different company for contracted work because of racial bias.

SDT had started preliminary work on installing surveillance cameras at 19 schools the state had considered “dangerous” as part of a $7.5 million no-bid contract, according to the Inquirer, when Ackerman offered the work to a smaller, minority-owned firm on an emergency contract.

The smaller firm, IBS Communications, had not requested the work and was not on a state list of companies eligible for no-bid contracts.

The Inquirer reported that Ackerman said at a 2010 meeting that she was tired of the district assigning work to contractors who she said did not look like her. John Byars, a former top district procurement official, told the newspaper that Ackerman said she would change course so that “all these white boys didn’t get contracts” and asked why a minority firm couldn’t receive the work before directing the job to IBS.

Ackerman died in 2013.

This is the second case the school district has lost regarding the decision to give the project to IBS instead of SDT. There are four total.

SDT is owned and operated largely by white men, according to its website. The eight-member panel who reached a decision on the trial consisted almost entirely of white jurors, the Inquirer reports.

Jesse C. Klaproth, who represented the Philadelphia School District at trial, told the Inquirer that he and his clients plan to explore options to appeal.

“We are extremely disappointed with the outcome,” district spokesman Fernando Gallard told the Inquirer.

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