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June 28, 2016

Philadelphia School District ordered to pay $2.3 million in federal discrimination suit

Bucks County firm said district showed bias by shifting contract for surveillance cameras to minority firm

Courts Lawsuits
School District of Philadelphia headquarters Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

The School District of Philadelphia headquarters on North Broad Street.

A federal jury has ordered the School District of Philadelphia and late Superintendant Arlene Ackerman to pay $2.3 million to a Bucks County firm that filed a discrimination lawsuit over a contract to install surveillance cameras in 2010.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Newtown-based Security & Data Technologies Inc. claimed it was "deselected" from a $7.5 million no-bid contract to install the cameras at 19 schools the state had identified as dangerous. The lawsuit further contended that Ackerman displayed bias when she ordered the emergency contract to be awarded instead to IBS Communications, an African-American firm not included on the state's list of eligible companies.

The case is one of four to emerge from a 2010 Inquirer report that found Ackerman spoke openly about steering the contract away from SDT in favor of IBS. At one September 2010 meeting, Ackerman said she would ensure that "all these white boys didn't get contracts," according to former district procurement official John Byers.

An attorney for SDT says the company had already begun preliminary work on the project when it lost the contract and has been struggling ever since. They had asked for $2.1 million in lost profits, plus compensatory and punitive damages.

At the time the contract was awarded to IBS, the school district was ahead of its 20 percent goal for participation of minority firms in public contracts. SDT, owned by two white men, claimed that it intended to hire minority workers to complete 33 percent of the contract.

A spokesperson for the School District of Philadelphia expressed disappointment with the outcome and appellate options are currently under consideration.