4 Sheriff’s Office ex-workers sue, alleging race bias

Barbara Deeley , a longtime employee of the Philadelphia Sheriff's Office, took over as acting sheriff this month.
Barbara Deeley , a longtime employee of the Philadelphia Sheriff's Office, took over as acting sheriff this month. (File photograph)
Posted: August 11, 2012

Four former employees of the Philadelphia Sheriff's Office have sued the previous holder of the office and the city in federal court, claiming racial discrimination.

Dorothy Byrd, Edward Chew, Patricia Bryant, and Wanda Doreen Davis claimed in a lawsuit filed Thursday that Barbara Deeley, acting sheriff until January, demoted or fired them because they are African American.

Deeley, who is white, called the claims baseless and said she was not aware of the litigation, though she did know about related claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

"Discrimination? That is ridiculous," Deeley said. She declined to comment further.

Mark McDonald, a spokesman for the city, also declined to comment, citing a policy of not discussing pending litigation.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania by Adrian Moody and Kevin Mincey, said Byrd was an Internal Affairs investigator with good performance reviews.

When Deeley became acting sheriff in January 2011, she made Byrd a uniformed officer, a lesser job. The demotion caused Byrd so much anxiety she was forced to take sick leave, according to the filing.

A similar pattern allegedly occurred with Chew, who was the department's director of legal services and whom Deeley dismissed in January 2011. Chew alleges Deeley fired him in part because he told her that her comments about the anatomy of some black female employees were offensive.

Bryant was the sheriff's chief of staff. She claimed Deeley referred to her as the "black girl" and terminated her job in late 2011.

Davis was director of communications. The lawsuit claims that after Davis took a medical leave in December 2010, Deeley demoted her to special assistant and gave her job to a contractor, Ken Smukler, who is white.

Deeley, a longtime administrator in the Sheriff's Office, took over as acting sheriff when John Green, who is black, resigned after 23 years amid questions from City Controller Alan Butkovitz about widespread financial irregularities that triggered a federal investigation.

After winning election, Jewell Williams became sheriff Jan. 2.

Contact Miriam Hill at 215-854-5520, hillmb@phillynews.com, or follow @miriamhill on Twitter.

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