Lawsuit to Enforce Civil Rights Laws in Boston

Economic Justice, Racial Justice

Federal Lawsuit Filed Against Biden Administration For Failure To Enforce Civil Rights Laws Protecting Minority-Owned Businesses 

Department of Justice Refuses to Investigate Boston’s Exclusionary Public Contracting System

The Black Economic Council of Massachusetts (BECMA), the Greater Boston Latino Network (GBLN), and Amplify Latinx, represented by Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR), filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of Justice (DOJ) after it failed to investigate allegations that the City of Boston systematically excludes Black- and Latinx-owned businesses from the City’s public contracting. The groups originally called for a federal investigation in 2021, citing evidence of a closed contracting system where fewer than 2 percent of the City’s contracting dollars are awarded to minority-owned businesses.  After months of delay, DOJ claimed it did not have jurisdiction and refused to investigate. 

The lawsuit underscores the vital role that federal agencies play in investigating civil rights complaints, as federal complaints are often the only avenue for victims of discrimination to vindicate their rights. The Biden Administration’s lackluster response is deeply problematic as federal agencies cannot shirk their legal responsibilities to investigate civil rights complaints on the pretext of lacking jurisdiction. 

“BECMA is committed to advocating for Black-owned businesses to ensure equitable economic opportunity and inclusive growth for Black communities across Massachusetts,” said Nicole Obi, President and CEO at the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts. “That includes demanding that an institution in place to combat injustice follows through with its obligation to investigate discriminatory policies and practices. We urge the DOJ to stand up for the minority-owned businesses who have been systematically denied access to contracting opportunities with the City of Boston.”

“Minority-owned businesses are growing exponentially and contribute greatly to our economy. It is a disservice to everyone, especially Boston’s residents, to underutilize Black- and Latinx-owned businesses,” said Beatriz Abascal of the Greater Boston Latino Network. “GBLN will continue to advocate for equitable opportunities for small businesses and work to lift Latinx families out of poverty.” 

“Communities of color depend on the Department of Justice to address and eradicate discrimination,” says Eneida Roman, Executive Director of Amplify Latinx. “The agency’s inaction unfortunately gives the City of Boston – and every other city and town receiving federal funds – the green light to continue blocking qualified minority-owned businesses from equal contracting opportunity.”

The groups filed a complaint with DOJ in 2021, alleging violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits federal fund recipients from practices that have an unjustified disparate impact on communities of color.  The complaint against the City of Boston alleged deliberate and ongoing discrimination against Black- and Latinx-owned businesses, including:

  • Maintaining public contracting practices that disproportionately and unjustifiably harm Black and Latinx business owners;
  • Funneling more than 98% of the City’s public contracting to majority-owned firms;
  • Failing to contract with qualified Black- and Latinx-owned businesses, despite these businesses’ readiness and availability to do the type of work required by the City; and
  • Failing to adopt and implement remedial steps to eliminate the longstanding exclusion of Black- and Latinx-owned businesses, as numerous other state and local governments have done.

After months of delay, the DOJ said that it would not even open an investigation into the allegations. At the time that DOJ made this determination, former Boston Mayor Marty Walsh—under whose Administration many of the challenged practices flourished – was serving as Labor Secretary in the Biden Administration.  Today’s lawsuit aims to force a proper DOJ investigation into this important matter. 

“The DOJ has failed to carry out its legal duties under Title VI. The law is clear: recipients of federal funds cannot inflict or support race and national origin discrimination in any form,” said Mirian Albert, Staff Attorney of LCR. “We call on the court to require DOJ to fulfill its duties under the law and hold the City accountable in order to close the opportunity and wealth gaps in historically disadvantaged communities.”

The original 2021 complaint filed with DOJ is available here.

The federal lawsuit filed today is available here.

Click here to download the federal complaint.