Philadelphia’s public school system was ordered to pay out $2.3 million in damages after a court found it deliberately discriminated against a white-owned business.
Security and Data Technologies, Inc. (SDT) was initially chosen by Philadelphia School District (PSD) and then-Superintendent Arlene Ackerman back in 2010 to install surveillance cameras at 19 schools PSD classified as particularly dangerous. After the company began preliminary work, it was abruptly “deselected” and the $7.5 million no-bid contract was then awarded on an emergency basis to IBS Communications, a company not eligible for no-bid contracts.
The abrupt turn of events, it turns out, had a racial motivation. An investigation by The Philadelphia Inquirer discovered Ackerman became fed up that the district kept giving contracts to white-owned companies. SDT is owned by two white men.
So, after telling other PSD administrators she would make sure “all these white boys didn’t get contracts,” Ackerman canceled SDT’s contract and diverted it over to IBS, which had black ownership.
After Ackerman’s stunt was publicized, SDT sued, and the six-year legal odyssey finally ended Monday with a victory for the plaintiffs. A jury ruled that the district, along with Ackerman’s estate (she died in 2013), must pay out $2.3 million in damages. The damages cover $2.1 million in lost profits along with a small sum of compensatory damages.
“It’s been a long, hard journey. Justice was served,” SDT attorney Michael Homans told the Inquirer.
PSD says it is exploring a possible appeal.
The case isn’t the only one that stemmed from Ackerman’s actions. Francis Dougherty, a member of the city’s School Reform Committee, was fired after he leaked Ackerman’s deeds to the press. He sued, claiming his free speech and whistleblower rights were violated. His case was settled for $725,000 earlier this year. Two more lawsuits are still pending.
Prior to her downfall, and almost simultaneously with her decision to cancel the SDT contract, Ackerman was praised by President Barack Obama.