Philly prisons bigwig claims discrimination in failed bid for top job

Philadelphia prisons Commissioner Blanche Carney and Deputy Commissioner Robert Tomaszewski appear side-by-side on the city's website. (

Philadelphia prisons Commissioner Blanche Carney and Deputy Commissioner Robert Tomaszewski appear side-by-side on the city's website. (

A white Philadelphia prisons official has sued the city for discrimination, saying city officials passed him over in favor of a less-experienced black woman for the prisons system’s top job last year.

After Robert Tomaszewski filed an EEOC complaint in July 2016 objecting to his snub, the city retaliated by auditing a fund he oversaw and reporting him to the Office of Inspector General, which investigates municipal misconduct, he claimed in a federal lawsuit filed last week. The OIG found no wrongdoing, the lawsuit notes.

Tomaszewski, who started in the prisons system as a correctional officer in 1984, had been a deputy commissioner for 11 years when he applied for the commissioner’s job that opened when Louis Giorla retired in January 2016. He remains second in command as deputy commissioner of administration.

City officials instead appointed Blanche Carney in April 2016. She started in 1995 as a social worker in the prisons system and worked as a deputy commissioner for a year before becoming the city’s first female prisons chief.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Before Carney’s promotion, Tomaszewski alleged in his lawsuit, the acting prisons commissioner told him that “Mayor Kenney’s administration agreed that, per pressure from the Philadelphia chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, [the city] would appoint a black female as the next commissioner.”

The city “has a pattern and practice of considering characteristics such as race and/or sex when making employment decisions,” attorneys Stephen G. Console and Caren N. Gurmankin, who represent Tomaszewski, wrote in the complaint.

“We deny the allegations that are set forth in the complaint,” said city spokeswoman Lauren Hitt.

Prisons spokeswoman Shawn Hawes said she couldn’t comment on pending litigation.

Tomaszewski is seeking damages for lost earnings, emotional upset and court costs, as well as a judge’s declaration that the city violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids employment discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion.

While such battling between the brass might strike some as unusual, discrimination complaints aren’t uncommon.

The city has paid more than $882,000 to settle more than 80 labor disputes so far this year, and nearly $2 million to settle another 112 labor disputes in 2015 and 2016, according to city data. Generally, about a third involved discrimination and retaliation claims, data shows.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that Carney started in 1995 as a social worker, not 1994. We regret the error. 

Tomaszewski Complaint (Text)

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal