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Black School Superintendent Discriminated Against White-Owned Company, Federal Jury Finds

Ackerman allegedly said at the meeting she would make sure "all these white boys didn't get contracts."

The late Arlene C. Ackerman, while serving as superintendent of the Philadelphia School District, allegedly told administrators during a September 2010 meeting she was tired of the district giving work to contractors who didn't look like her, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Arlene C. Ackerman (Image source: YouTube)

Security & Data Technologies Inc. of Newtown, Pennsylvania — owned by two white men, the paper reported — had begun preliminary work to install surveillance cameras at 19 schools as part of a $7.5 million no-bid contract, the Inquirer said.

But Ackerman apparently wasn't having it, adding at the meeting she would make sure "all these white boys didn't get contracts," according to John Byars, a former top district procurement official, the Inquirer said. Ackerman allegedly asked why "a black firm [couldn't] get it" and directed the surveillance camera job be given to IBS Communications, a minority-owned firm, the paper said.

IBS hadn't sought the contract and wasn't on a state list of companies eligible for no-bid contracts, the Inquirer said.

Shortly after, SDT filed a racial discrimination suit, saying Ackerman "deselected" the company from the job. On Monday a federal jury ruled in favor of the plaintiff, saying Ackerman discriminated against SDT — to the tune of a $2.3 million judgment against the district and Ackerman, the paper reported.

"My client has been struggling with this fact of being rejected for a contract because of race for nearly six years," attorney Michael Homans, who represented SDT with Melissa Kay Hazell, told the Inquirer. "It's been a long, hard journey. Justice was served."

The case is one of four — and the second the district has lost — that followed a 2010 Inquirer report that Ackerman dismissed SDT in favor of IBS, the paper said.

The district's response? "We are extremely disappointed with the outcome," spokesman Fernando Gallard told the Inquirer Monday night. Attorney Jesse C. Klaproth represented the district and Ackerman's estate and said he and his clients "plan on exploring our appellate options," the paper reported.

According to the Inquirer, a district source told the paper Ackerman ordered the $7.5 million emergency contract be granted to IBS. 

More from the Inquirer:

A federal jury in 2015 found that Ackerman and a former head of human relations had violated Francis X. Dougherty's right to free speech by placing him on leave in December 2010 during an investigation into leaks about the camera contract, and then recommending that the [School Reform Commission] fire him.

In a suit, Dougherty disclosed that he was a source for the article. He contended that he was fired in retaliation for talking with reporters and contacting state and federal authorities to express concerns about the contract.

In March, the SRC voted to pay Dougherty $725,000 to settle his claims.

Ackerman left the district in August 2011 and died in February 2013. When the camera contract was made public, she repeatedly denied that she had directed the staff to award the work to IBS.

Former procurement official Byars — who the Inquirer said was placed on leave and then fired — has a civil-rights, slander and defamation suit scheduled for trial in federal court in November, the paper reported. Byars, who black, claims he became a scapegoat over the contract controversy, the Inquirer added.

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