A federal jury has ordered the estate of former Philadelphia School District Superintendent Arlene Ackerman to pay $2.3 million to a Newtown, Pennsylvania company, after determining that she discriminated against the white-owned firm by awarding its contract to a Black-owned company that was not state-approved for the job.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Security & Data Technologies Inc. had already started work on the $7.5 million project to install surveillance cameras at 19 schools, when Ackerman, who died of cancer in 2013, told administrators at a September 2010 meeting that she was exhausted with awarding contracts to companies owned by whites.
A former district procurement official told the newspaper Ackerman also said at the meeting that she would make sure that “all these white boys didn’t get contracts,” and asked why “a black firm [couldn’t] get it.” She then ordered that the job be given to African-American-owned IBS Communications.
Soon after the Inquirer broke the story in November 2010, SDT filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against Ackerman and the District, charging the firm had been “deselected” on the basis of race.
On Monday, a U.S. Eastern District Court jury of mostly whites ruled in favor of the alarm system company.
“She had crossed the line,” SDT attorney Michael Homans told the Bucks County Courier Times Wednesday. “Number one, we had multiple school district officials who attended a meeting with the superintendent where she expressly stated she was tired of all these contracts going to white-owned companies.”
Jesse C. Klaproth, attorney for the school district and the Ackerman estate, told the Inquirer that he and his clients planned to explore appellate options.
“My client has been struggling with this fact of being rejected for a contract because of race for nearly six years,” said Homans, per the Inquirer. “It’s been a long, hard journey. Justice was served.”
The decision comes amid an increased interest in support for Black-owned businesses by those in the African-American community. Rampant racial discrimination in mainstream corporations has inspired a birth of entrepreneurship. African-American answers to Airbnb, Tinder and the like, are popping up every day to satisfy a population hungry for safe spaces and desperate to close the lingering wealth gap.
The renewed patronage of African-American businesses is not limited to the States. As Atlanta Black Star reported, Ghanaian firm Groupe Nduom recently invested $9 million into the struggling Illinois Service Federal Savings and Loan Association. The historic financial institution was founded in the 1930s by 13 African-American men who “had a dream to establish a savings and loan association sensitive to the needs of Black residents of Chicago,” according to the bank’s website.
According to a 2012 Census Bureau survey, of the 8 million minority-owned businesses in the U.S., some 2.5 million are owned by African-Americans. Black-owned companies account for nearly 10 percent of the total 27 million businesses in the nation.
An analysis by the Pew Research Center found that wealth of white households had jumped to 13 times the median wealth of Black households in 2013, while it was 8 times the wealth of Blacks just three years earlier in 2010. The median white household in 2013 was worth $141,900, and the average Black household was worth just $11,000.
Demos, a New York City-based research and policy think tank, developed the Racial Wealth Audit, which is used to determine the impact housing, education and labor markets have on the wealth gap between white, Black and Hispanic households.
The organization found that if public policy were to successfully eliminate racial disparities in home ownership, the primary vehicle for wealth attainment, median Black wealth would grow $32,113 and the wealth gap between Black and white households would shrink 31 percent.