Pennsylvania Record

Friday, November 22, 2019

Philadelphia Mayor Kenney not forced to testify - yet - in former Chief Information Officer's discrimination lawsuit

Federal Court

By Charmaine Little | Aug 7, 2019

James kenney headshot
Philadelphia Mayer James F. Kenney

PHILADELPHIA - On July 25, Philadelphia’s former Chief Information Officer was denied his motion to compel Mayor James F. Kenney’s deposition as the ex-worker sues the city for alleged retaliation in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Judge Jan E. DuBois ruled on the case.

Charles Brennan said he’s convinced the City of Philadelphia fired him because he spoke out about racial discrimination in hiring and alleged violations of public contract award requirements that he said were going on behind the scenes. He sued the city, Kenney and officers Christine Derenick-Lopez and Jane Slusser.

More recently, he wanted the court to compel Kenney’s deposition, but it refused and denied Brennan’s motion.

DuBois said Brennan proved the deposition would probably result in more admissible evidence being uncovered. The court agreed with Brennan that it was likely Kenney had personal knowledge on the litigation. 

Slusser and Derenick-Lopez testified that they sat down with Kenney and told him why Brennan was getting fired before they actually terminated him. Slusser also said she told Kenney about issues with Brennan weeks before he was let go.

The court also agreed that Kenney’s deposition was vital to Brennan's case and that a deposition from Kenney wouldn’t be repetitive because discovery and depositions submitted previously haven’t ironed out how Kenney was involved.

Lastly, Brennan had to prove that the evidence isn’t available through any other source than Kenney's deposition. This is where the court parted ways in agreeing with Brennan.

“Plaintiff has not shown that a limited deposition written by questions pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 31 would not be effective in obtaining the information that plaintiff seeks,” said the court.

It offered Brennan a chance to file a second motion to compel if he still believes Kenney’s deposition is needed after conducting a written deposition.

Brennan was hired to manage Philadelphia’s technology matters in January 2016, just months after Kenney was elected. Derenick-Lopez, the Chief Administrative Officer, was his supervisor. Before he was fired in January 2018, Brennan accused the city of racial discrimination in its hiring processes, not properly complying with public bidding process requirements and not acting on a contractor’s missed deadlines. He also called out the city for asking him to attend gender sensitivity training amid his complaints.

During his time there, Brennan often met with the city’s Chief Diversity Officer, Nolan Atkinson, to create initiatives to diversify the office makeup. Atkinson allegedly said the staff was “too white” and wanted to bring on more African-Americans and Hispanics. Brenann complained to Derenick-Lopez, who, by requirement, relayed the issues to Kenney and Slusser, the chief of staff. 

Brennan also alleged there were times when Derenick-Lopez would say “it was a shame the best candidate was white, because they needed to hire an African-American for the position,” according to the decision.

Along with hiring processes, Brennan took issue with a contract the city had with Axon Enterprises Inc. The agreement was to buy 4,000 body cameras for patrol officers. Brennan said the agreement violated public bidding process requirements, stating the city didn’t do its due diligence and look at other options. He challenged the agreement, but after he was allegedly “warned” about speaking up, the city moved forward with the $12 million contract.

He also called out the city in its dealings with Comcast. The city and Comcast had a contract that the cable provider would perform certain jobs, like fixing hanging wires, within a certain period of time. The agreement also said that if Comcast didn’t make the deadlines, the city would be owed compensation. Comcast said it followed the deadlines, but Brennan said the company missed multiple deadlines. He said he was concerned the city would miss out on thousands of dollars in compensation and told Derenick-Lopez about it during a weekly meeting. Derenick-Lopez allegedly told him to “take it easy” and “to not upset Comcast, and to go along with its ‘denial of access’ designations,” according to the lawsuit.

Lastly, Brennan said he was retaliated against for complaining about requests for him to go to sensitivity training. Derenick-Lopez informed Brennan in 2017 that he “was insensitive to gender in the workplace,” and referenced previous comments he had made. Brennan said this was unfair and complained about being asked to go to training.

The city offered Brennan a severance package after his termination, but he would have to forfeit any discrimination and retaliation claims. So he declined the package. Brennan sued on April 4, 2018. He followed it up with a motion to compel the deposition of Kenney on May 1, 2019.

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