Professor Matthew Whitaker, an associate professor at Arizona State University and owner of the Whitaker Group, founded the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at the college. As part of his background in history and his expertise on race relations, he was hired by the City of Phoenix to conduct training on “Police Legitimacy, Procedural Justice and Cultural Competency” at the local police department. The contract stated that Whitaker was to provide both training and training materials to police officers at a rate of $350/hour, for a total value of $268,800.

Whitaker conducted the training over a series of days, giving a seminar accompanied by Powerpoint presentations. He billed, and was paid, according to the agreed upon rate. His invoices included 64 hours of outline preparation, materials, research and reading, and revision and review, equaled $21,900.

The City of Phoenix later discovered that Whitaker had taken Powerpoint slides created by the Chicago Police Department without properly attributing them so that the police officers believed that Whitaker had crafted the presentations himself. While Whitaker changed the formatting slightly and added some photographs and headings to the presentations, the substantive content was identical and often times stolen verbatim.

The City of Phoenix issued a demand letter to the Whitaker Group, requesting a refund in the amount of $21,900. According to the letter, the City compared the Chicago Police Department’s Powerpoint slides to Whitaker’s and found that 52 of the 86 slides were identical, while the remaining 34 slides had no substantive content (e.g. just photographs). In addition, Whitaker had provided a handout to the officers that was also substantively identical, save for a few formatting changes.

The contract signed by both parties stated that “[The Whitaker Group]shall prepare for and present the course . . . including the creation of preparatory materials.” The City argued in its letter that this clause meant that the City was contracting for Whitaker’s original work, not the Chicago Police Department’s work. The City points out that Chicago would have permitted Phoenix to use its materials for free if it had so desired. The City argues that Whitaker breached the contract by plagiarizing the Powerpoint slides.

The outcome of the lawsuit will come down to the exact language of the contract and its plain meaning, as well as any communication Whitaker had with the City or police department about using Chicago’s slides. 

Whitaker in fact has a history of plagiarism. In two separate books, he copied verbatim large blocks of text from other writers and websites without using quotation marks or citations. He was eventually placed on administrative leave in 2015 following public outcry. Despite the plagiarism controversy, his police department training contract was unanimously approved by the Phoenix City Counsel, but Whitaker terminated the contract early in July.

In response to the breach of contract allegations, Whitaker said he refuses to pay the City back because the City was made aware that he intended to use Chicago’s Powerpoint slides. Two months later, the City filed a lawsuit against Whitaker for breach of contract, seeking to reclaim the contested amount.

The outcome of the lawsuit will come down to the exact language of the contract and its plain meaning, as well as any communication Whitaker had with the City or police department about using Chicago’s slides. If Whitaker can prove the City had notice and consented to use of Chicago’s training materials, an Arizona judge will likely hold he was not in breach.

If you are struggling with a business contract dispute, call Monahan Law Firm, PLC at (623) 385-3190. We serve businesses located throughout the Phoenix metropolitan area, including Avondale, Buckeye, Chandler, Glendale, Mesa, Peoria, Phoenix, Sun City, Surprise, Tempe, and all of Maricopa County.

If you are struggling with a business contract dispute, call Monahan Law Firm, PLC at (623) 385-3190. We serve businesses located throughout the Phoenix metropolitan area, including Avondale, Buckeye, Chandler, Glendale, Mesa, Peoria, Phoenix, Sun City, Surprise, Tempe, and all of Maricopa County.

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