Francis X. Dougherty, one of the two Philadelphia School District administrators fired after an investigation into leaks about a $7.5 million no-bid video surveillance camera project, has filed a federal lawsuit that alleges he was wrongly terminated for being a whistleblower.
The civil rights complaint filed in U.S. District Court a week ago said former Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman improperly steered the no-bid contract to a minority firm in fall 2010 and later fired Dougherty in retaliation for reporting her action to the FBI, state officials, and The Philadelphia Inquirer.
“The wrongdoing and waste about which Mr. Dougherty spoke out concerned the award of public contracts on the basis of favoritism, personal connections, and race,” his complaint said.
The Inquirer reported on Nov. 28, 2010, that Ackerman had pushed aside Security & Data Technologies Inc., a Newtown, Pa., firm that had begun preliminary work on the project to install cameras in 19 city schools the state had deemed dangerous. Instead, sources said, she ordered the contract awarded to IBS Communications Inc., a small minority firm then based in Mount Airy, Pa.
Dougherty, who had been the district’s deputy chief business officer, was one of six administrators placed on paid leave in December 2010 when the district launched a probe to determine who had leaked the information.
The Philadelphia School Reform Commission (SRC) fired him four months later for violating policies that prohibit disclosing confidential district information.
The defendants in the suit are Ackerman; acting Superintendent Leroy Nunery II; Estelle G. Matthews, the former top human resources official; the district; and the SRC, which approved the contract and later ratified Dougherty’s dismissal.
District spokesman Fernando Gallard would not comment on the lawsuit, saying the district did not comment on open legal matters.
After accepting a buyout of more than $900,000 in August, Ackerman moved to Albuquerque, N.M., where she runs an educational consulting company.
The lawsuit alleges Ackerman “or someone on her staff, or someone in her network, had a prior relationship and connection with IBS.” Ackerman has not responded to eMail messages seeking comment.
A lawsuit filed recently by the district’s former chief procurement officer alleges Ackerman had sought to deflect responsibility for the IBS contract because she had a “personal relationship” with the company’s president. She said then she would not dignify that assertion with a response.
Ackerman repeatedly has denied ordering the award to IBS, but she did acknowledge producing its business card and telling aides to find IBS work on an earlier surveillance-camera contract at South Philadelphia High School.
IBS was paid $12,890 to produce schematic drawings—12 times the amount the company that had installed the cameras said it would charge. Afterward, the suit alleges, Ackerman criticized Dougherty and his staff, saying they should have given IBS “more than $12,000 worth of work.”