Contractors look to sue Shelby County over bid preferences for minorities, women

Contractors look to sue Shelby County over bid preferences for minorities, women

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - A group of white men and women are claiming they were discriminated against by Shelby County government.

The group of contractors said a program meant to be inclusive of African-Americans in government work is unconstitutional.

A letter sent Friday to the Shelby County's attorney demands that they immediately suspend the Minority and Women's Business Enterprise Program.

The Baker-Donelson law firm is threatening legal action on behalf of the Mechanical Contractors Association of Memphis.

The MCA said the program is "unconstitutional" and "unlawful," causing the group's 18 contractors who specialize in plumbing, piping and HVAC work to lose business.

"It's not easy and it's not clear-cut, but it takes this checks and balance process with the courts," said Shelby County Commission Chairperson Heidi Shafer.

Shelby County government and the board of commissioners were named as possible defendants in the complaint

David Sink, the executive director of the association at the center of the complaint, pointed to a bidding war last June. At stake was a big contract to install HVAC units on the roof of the Agri-Center.

The firm that was hired charged the county $2.3 million to do the job, nearly $400,000 more than the lowest bid.

The lowest-bidder, a local business owned by a Caucasian woman, was eliminated because it "did not meet" the bid's African American business requirement.

The company that ultimately won the contract was not minority owned but hired two African-American subcontractors.

Sink called it a possible loophole in the system.

"This is a very thick, very complex ordinance so we were anticipating that there were some things that we wanted to tweak to make better, unfortunately now this lawsuit means we won't be able to move as quickly on any of those tweaks," Shafer said.

Shafer said she does stand by the program that looks to give minorities and women a fair shot at contracts with the county.

In the letter, it states the county had until 5 p.m. Monday to suspend the county's minority business program or they would file a lawsuit.

It's unclear at this time if the lawsuit was indeed filed.

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell's Office said do not discuss legal matters and did not have a comment at this time.

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