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Philadelphia officials move to dismiss lawsuit from fired CIO

Charles Brennan, who was fired in January, claims he was dismissed for criticizing Mayor Jim Kenney's diversity hiring practices.

Benjamin Freed
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Benjamin Freed Technology Editor

Benjamin Freed is the technology editor for StateScoop, covering how states and cities make decisions about the technology that powers government s...

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Lawyers for Philadelphia last week moved to dismiss parts of a lawsuit from the city's former chief information officer, Charles Brennan, who claims he was fired in January as punishment for criticizing City Hall's diversity hiring practices.

In the motion filed in U.S. district court, lawyers for the city argue that most of Brennan's claims against his former supervisors, including those against Mayor Jim Kenney, should be dismissed. The motion states that Brennan's original complaint never offered evidence to back up his claims that Kenney and the others had violated his rights under federal and Pennsylvania whistleblower protections.

In his lawsuit, filed April 5, Brennan alleged he was dismissed after resisting orders to hire more African American and Hispanic tech workers in spite of his stated preference to offer jobs based on skill and experience. He also alleged his firing was retaliation for criticizing a police body-camera contract and the Philadelphia government's relationship with cable giant Comcast, which is based in the city.

Upon taking office in January 2016, Kenney said one of his "top priorities" was to make the City Hall payroll more diverse to better represent the 1.6 million population that is about 44 percent black and 14 percent Hispanic. Brennan claimed in his lawsuit this manifested itself in the form of Kenney's chief diversity officer, Nolan Atkinson, saying the city's Office of Information Technology was "too white" and featured "too many Asian" employees.

Brennan said in his lawsuit that he took his objections of Atkinson's orders — and the city's dealings with Comcast — to his direct supervisor, Christine Derenick-Lopez, the city's chief administrative officer. Derenick-Lopez and Kenney's chief of staff, Jane Slusser, informed Brennan of his firing on Jan. 12. 

Brennan, 67, came out of retirement to join Kenney's administration. Previously, he had spent 33 years at the Philadelphia Police Department, rising from beat cop to the department's first head of information technology, a position he held for two decades. As citywide CIO, Brennan was applauded early on for keeping the IT office focused on traditional "back-office" functions like modernizing payroll systems and keeping municipal networks up and running.

The city's motion to dismiss aims to remove Kenney, Slusser and Atkinson as defendants. The document states that Derenick-Lopez was aware of Brennan's grievances, but argues that the former CIO failed to offer any evidence the others had any knowledge of them.

"Plaintiff's conclusory assertions that he voiced concerns to Defandants are devoid of factual content concerning the date, time, place, or context of any protected activity," the motion reads. "This lack of specificity is especially glaring considering the wealth of specific facts present in nearly every other allegation contained in his complaint. As such, Plaintiff's conclusions are not entitled to a presumption of truth."

The motion also argues that Brennan defied Derenick-Lopez's repeated requests that he attend sensitivity training sessions.

Adam Lease, a lawyer representing Brennan, declined to comment on the city's motion to dismiss other than to say his team intends to file a response by June 19.

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States, Pennsylvania, State & Local News, Careers & Elected Officials, Chief Information Officer (CIO), Mayor, Lawsuits, Philadelphia, Jim Kenney, Charles Brennan

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