Broward County’s program to help minority-owned firms get county work is unconstitutional because it favors minorities and females, a federal lawsuit has charged.
The suit was filed by the same lawyer who has won similar suits against Miami-Dade County, most recently in 2004. Atlanta attorney Herbert Schlanger filed the Broward lawsuit on behalf of trade associations that represent contractors, engineers and architects.
The lawsuit contends that the county’s policies put the associations at a competitive disadvantage in bidding and force them to hire subcontractors based on race, ethnicity or sex—not quality.
Filed March 15 in U.S. District Court in Fort Lauderdale, the suit asks for unspecified damages and seeks to force the county to evaluate bids without regard to sex or race. It alleges that the county has violated the federal Civil Rights Act and the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees equal protection under the law.
In Miami-Dade, Schlanger said his suits forced the county to drop a minority set-aside program in favor of one to help small businesses compete for county contracts.
Hispanic and African-American business leaders said Broward’s minority program levels the playing field. Minority-owned firms received about $114 million in county contracts last year, said Broward County Attorney Jeffrey Newton.
Since at least the early 1990s, Broward County has required contractors to try to share a portion of their county work with minority or female subcontractors. Companies bidding on contracts have to demonstrate they made a good-faith effort to meet the goal, which is based on the availability of minorities in different fields.
Such programs have existed nationally for a few decades, experts said. But in the 1980s, there was a backlash against what critics labeled as quotas, claiming they hurt “innocent white victims,” said University of Miami constitutional law professor Donald Jones.
“We based our program on that disparity study,” said County Mayor Josephus Eggelletion, Jr. “It gives everybody the opportunity to participate in contracting opportunities for government contracts.”
Schlanger said Broward’s program to boost business for minority-owned firms is similar to Miami-Dade’s program. Newton and Meyers said they think there are differences, but they are still researching the lawsuit.
The federal lawsuit names the county and the county commissioners. The plaintiffs include the South Florida Chapter of the Associated General Contractors, Construction Association of South Florida, Underground Contractors Association of South Florida, Engineering Contractors Association of South Florida and Jenkins and Charland Inc.