The Philadelphia School District's bills for a case it lost in federal court last month over a no-bid contract for security cameras could total $3.6 million.
Following a six-day trial in late June, a federal jury found that the district and former Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman had discriminated against Security & Data Technologies Inc. (SDT) when she steered a $7.5 million no-bid contract to a smaller, minority-owned firm that had not sought the work. Jurors awarded the losing firm $2.3 million in damages.
Now, lawyers for SDT, which is based in Bucks County, have asked the court to order the district to pay an additional $1.3 million for attorneys' fees, other costs, and interest. Winners in civil rights cases are entitled to seek repayment for such expenses.
Meanwhile, the school district said in a court filing last week that it will seek a new trial in the case. It also asked U.S. District Judge Mitchell S. Goldberg to allow the district to delay paying damages until he has ruled on pending motions.
Marjorie Neff, chairwoman of the School Reform Commission, could not be reached for comment. District spokesman Fernando Gallard said he could not discuss ongoing legal matters.
If the judge approves the payments SDT is seeking, the district's total cost from Ackerman's 2010 camera decision could grow to nearly $6.3 million.
That amount includes a $725,000 settlement the district reached with a former top administrator, Francis X. Dougherty, after a federal jury last year found he had been wrongfully suspended and fired for disclosing the camera contract to the Inquirer.
But the bulk of the money the district has spent - $1.6 million - was paid to the Tucker Law Group LLC, a Center City law firm, which defended the district in the SDT and Dougherty cases, and is representing the district in two other pending camera suits.
The Tucker figure comes from documents the Inquirer obtained from the district under the state's open records law and show legal bills through March 15. The newspaper is awaiting a response to a request for bills through June 30.
The four suits were filed after the Inquirer reported on Nov. 28, 2010, that Ackerman had pushed aside SDT, a Newtown firm that had begun preliminary work on an emergency contract to install surveillance cameras in 19 schools the state had deemed "persistently dangerous."
A district source told the newspaper that Ackerman ordered that the $7.5 million contract be given to IBS Communications Inc., a small, minority-owned firm then based in Mount Airy. SDT was on a state-approved list of contractors eligible for emergency contracts. IBS was not.
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.
SDT filed suit in 2012. "This case arises from an episode of blatant, admitted race discrimination" by Ackerman and the district in awarding a public contract, the company said in court documents.
SDT is owned by two white men.
A federal jury in 2015 found that Ackerman and a former head of human relations had violated 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 the SRC fire him.
In his 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.
Byars, a former procurement official who was placed on leave, then fired, has a civil-rights, slander, and defamation suit scheduled for trial in federal court in November. Byars, who is African American, alleges that he was made a scapegoat for the controversy that erupted over the contract.
Augustine Pescatore, a commander in the Office of School Safety, was put on leave during the probe into leaks about the contract. When he returned to work, he was reassigned to the patrol division. In a suit pending in Common Pleas Court, Pescatore maintains that he was defamed, demoted, and made a scapegoat.