Legal Action Supporting Small Businesses in Boston

Economic Justice


Today, the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts (BECMA), the Greater Boston Latino Network (GBLN), and Amplify Latinx filed a civil rights complaint against the City of Boston in response to gross racial disparities in public contracting under the Walsh Administration. Lawyers for Civil Rights filed the complaint, under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) alleging that the City of Boston has engaged in a pattern of discrimination against Black- and Latinx-owned businesses by maintaining a public procurement system that unlawfully excludes these businesses from equal contracting opportunities.  

The City of Boston commissioned a disparity study in 2018 to assess the demographics and circumstances surrounding the recipients of public contracts under the Walsh Administration. The recently completed study foundthat just 1.2% of the $2.1 billion spent in public contracts went to Black- and Latinx-owned businesses — despite the fact that such businesses are available in much greater numbers to do the work that the City requires. The City spent less than half a percent — or $9.4 million — with Black-owned businesses alone.  The stark racial disparities — over which the City has direct control — demonstrate deliberate and intentional discrimination against Black- and Latinx-owned businesses on the part of the City, according to the complaint. 

Complainants outline how the findings of the disparity study constitute compelling evidence of discrimination, with Black and Latinx business owners confirming the many ways in which the City’s “old boys’ network” unfairly excludes them from contracting opportunities:  

As the study’s rigorous statistical analysis demonstrates — and personal testimonials can confirm — Black- and Latinx-owned businesses are ready, willing, and able to perform the type of work that the City needs, but the Walsh administration simply did not contract with them.  

According to the disparity study, Black-owned businesses were unfairly denied over $70 million in contracting opportunities over the five year study period. That is over $70 million that could — and should — have gone to Black-owned businesses to help close the opportunity and wealth gaps in historically disadvantaged communities. 

“The study reveals what BECMA members and community leaders have been saying for decades: The City of Boston does not value Black businesses or the Black community,” said Segun Idowu, President and CEO of BECMA, the lead complainant in the case. “Mayor Martin J. Walsh and his administration have failed to deliver fair and equitable procurement for Black-owned businesses, as well as for other minority-owned businesses. Bold leadership is required to immediately correct this systemic problem.”

“The intentional concentration of contract awards with favored white-owned businesses exacerbates and compounds contracting disparities along racial and ethnic lines that have long persisted in Boston,” says Rosario Ubiera-Minaya, Executive Director of Amplify Latinx, another complainant. “This harm poses a real economic cost to our Black and Latino communities, and the City must act immediately to correct these inequities.”

“The lack of progress is shameful and unlawful,” says Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, the Executive Director of Lawyers for Civil Rights. “The disparity study confirms an intentionality surrounding the municipal contract apartheid system that currently only benefits white people. There is a strong aversion to diversity and equity inhibiting progress in Boston.”  

“GBLN has long called for fair and proportionate representation of community members in the City’s government and contracts. As a result of the City’s contracting practices, GBLN and its members have been forced to pour extensive resources into advocating for small businesses and working to lift Latinx families out of poverty,” said the Greater Boston Latino Network, another complainant in the case. 

The Complaint explains that the gross inequities confirmed by the disparity study amply demonstrate that a race-conscious procurement program is long overdue and must be implemented with urgency to cure the deep injustices embedded in Boston’s public contracting. The complaint calls for immediate federal intervention and oversight to compel the City to enact race-conscious measures to break down the discriminatory barriers to equitable contracting opportunities. The complaint also calls for the creation of a community-driven remediation process based on the needs identified by the small business communities injured and harmed by the City. 

Click here for the City’s disparity study.

The complaint is available here: