A former assistant district attorney in Philadelphia is suing the prosecutor’s office over
allegations that she was forced out of her 15-year position due to discriminatory and retaliatory reasons.
MK Feeney filed suit in the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia back on May 20 against the City of Philadelphia and District Attorney R. Seth Williams, claiming she was retaliated against because she complained of unequal treatment at work.
Feeney, who is white, began her career with the D.A.’s Office back in February 1996 under then-District Attorney Lynne Abraham, a former Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge who now works in private practice at the city firm Archer & Greiner.
Abraham, like the plaintiff, is also white, while Williams, the current top prosecutor, is black.
Feeney worked in various trial units during her tenure with the District Attorney’s Office, and she was promoted to work in the Homicide Unit in the spring of 2005, where, as she had during her previous decade-and-a-half with the office, performed her duties “in a highly competent manner,” the lawsuit reads.
Nevertheless, the suit claims, things began to take a negative turn for the plaintiff soon after Williams took office after he won the D.A.’s race in 2009.
Feeney claims in her complaint that when Williams took over for Abraham, the office engaged in a policy, practice and custom to consider race in connection with employment decisions within the prosecutor’s office.
Specifically, the defendants treated non-white employees more favorably than white employees such as the plaintiff, the suit alleges.
This allegedly included disciplining white employees more harshly than non-white employees; promoting non-white employees into open positions over qualified white employees; considering the racial demographics of the City of Philadelphia in making personnel decisions regarding hiring and firing; and waiving job requirements for non-white employees but not for white employees.
“Defendants failed to adhere to, enforce and/or implement City’s declared policy prohibiting employment discrimination based upon race,” the complaint states.
As for Feeney, the plaintiff claims that she was interrogated by higher-ups with the D.A.’s Office soon after an article was published in the Philadelphia Inquirer concerning the departure of a former first assistant district attorney, a news story that also mentioned an unidentified black assistant district attorney who had past brushes with the law.
Williams called all the assistant district attorneys into a meeting where he admonished them for speaking with the media, the suit claims.
When Feeney was confronted by Williams, the district attorney spoke to the plaintiff about a conversation she had had concerning a Preliminary Arraignment Reporting System report involving the unidentified black assistant district attorney mentioned in the newspaper article.
The suit claims that there were a number of assistant district attorneys in the office who had pulled the file on the new hire due to rumors involving the man’s past.
Feeney admitted that while she had seen the report on the man, she personally did not pull it up and go to the press with its contents.
Nevertheless, Feeney was told her employment was being terminated on June 23, 2012, supposedly due to the fact that she had been “untruthful” during her interrogation.
The lawsuit claims that another assistant district attorney who had seen the reports on the controversial new hire was not fired. That employee is black.
After she was fired, Feeney was allegedly escorted from the building by police in a move designed to humiliate her, the complaint states.
The suit claims that Williams was personally involved in the decision to terminate Feeney.
In terminating her employment, the lawsuit claims, the D.A.’s Office never articulated what it believes the plaintiff may have lied about during her interrogation that would be the basis for her firing.
The suit claims that Feeney was treated less favorably and disciplined more harshly than non-white employees, and that the plaintiff’s race was a motivating and/or determinative factor in the defendant’s decision to terminate her employment.
The complaint claims the defendants violated the Civil Rights Act and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act when they fired Feeney.
The plaintiff seeks declaratory judgment in addition to compensatory and punitive damages for loss of income, pain and suffering, emotional distress, humiliation and a loss of life’s pleasures.
Feeney also seeks litigation costs, attorney’s fees and expert witness fees.
The District Attorney’s Office strongly denies the allegations contained within the lawsuit.
“The complaint does not present a full and accurate account – either of the circumstances of Ms. Feeney's departure, or of the record of the office's personnel decisions,” Tasha Jamerson, a spokeswoman for the District Attorney’s Office, wrote in a statement provided to the Pennsylvania Record. “In any organization there will always be someone who feels aggrieved when personnel changes are made, and it is all too easy to claim nefarious motives. The reality is that the District Attorney has actively recruited and hired from all segments of the population, and has retained and promoted many white women to positions of authority – in fact more than ever before.”
Feeney is being represented by Philadelphia lawyer Marjory P. Albee of the Console Law Offices.
The federal case number is 2:13-cv-02758-NS.