Rhode Island Excludes Minority-Owned Businesses From State Contracting

BizGrow, Racial Justice

Civil Rights Groups Charge That Rhode Island Is Violating Federal Law By Excluding Minority-Owned Businesses From State Contracting

In a demand letter, Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) and Rhode Island Black Business Association (RIBBA) have outlined how Rhode Island is violating federal anti-discrimination law by systematically excluding minority-owned businesses from State contracting.  The demand letter calls on State officials to immediately increase access for Minority and Women Business Enterprises within the state contracting system, and sets forth concrete steps to accomplish this goal.  

Citing extensively to a 2021 disparity study that analyzed Rhode Island’s process for awarding contracts, today’s demand letter highlights the significant inequalities that exist across all sectors of Rhode Island’s public contracting practices.  The letter outlines how the state’s failure to ensure equal contracting opportunity runs afoul of federal law—particularly Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964—and further increases the racial wealth gap plaguing communities of color. 

“Rhode Island has had ample time to implement changes to reduce the disparities in state contracting for minority-owned businesses,” said Tasheena Davis, Litigation Fellow at LCR.  “Federal law does not permit the continued systematic exclusion of minority-owned businesses.”  Attorney Davis noted that the State contracted for over $900 million in construction purchase orders during the study period with non-minority male businesses receiving about 94% of those awards and MBEs only receiving approximately 2%, despite being comparable in size, capable and readily available to perform contracts at much higher rates.

“Black and Brown businesses have been overlooked and underutilized in this state for far too long,” said Lisa Ranglin, President & CEO of RIBBA.  “We will continue to fight for these businesses to have opportunities to participate and to call out Rhode Island officials who fail to make that a reality.” 

Ms. Ranglin said that RIBBA, LCR, and other advocates will soon be meeting with the State Attorney General Peter Neronha to discuss the State’s systematic under-utilization of minority-owned businesses.  “We want to make sure the Attorney General understands that affording equal opportunity to minority-owned businesses is not only economically beneficial for the State, it is legally required.”

The demand letter reiterates many of the suggestions for improvement that both RIBBA and the disparity study consultant have made over the years, including race-conscious measures such as mandated MBE goals for subcontracts, as well as race-neutral measures such as expanding solicitation notification to reach a broader audience.

Click here to download the letter to Rhode Island officials.