9th Circuit Panel Rejects Minority-Contract Awards

Donna Gordon Blankinship, AP, May 10

Washington state cannot favor minority-owned firms in awarding road-building contracts because it hasn’t proved minority contractors have faced discrimination, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.

Western States Paving of Vancouver, Wash., sued the state Department of Transportation, Clark County and the city of Vancouver after losing several road-paving contracts to minority-owned firms with higher bids.

The company argued that federal law allowing states to give preference to minority firms was unconstitutional, and that the state did not properly follow federal guidelines.

A U.S. District Court judge ruled against Western States Paving, but the three-judge appellate panel disagreed in part. The federal guidelines—part of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century—were affirmed, but the panel disputed the way the state enforces them.

The appellate panel sent the case back to U.S. District Court for a ruling on damages for Western States Paving.

The law allows use of race—and sex-based preferences in federally funded transportation contracts, but only if a state has proved there has been bias against minority contractors.

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