Won: Case dismissed; the state decided to allocate grant funds based on business focus rather than minority, women, and LGBTQ status



Brian Dalton knows first-hand how brutal COVID-19 has been to small businesses. The longtime Massachusetts law enforcement officer founded New England Firearms Academy in 2013 after retiring from the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department. The academy provides all levels of certified firearms safety instruction to help citizens meet the government’s firearms licensing requirements.

Brian’s business is not a mere retirement hobby. As a public safety professional, it’s a mission for his community. As a single father, it is a livelihood for his three children. In March 2020, the governor deemed the academy a non-essential business and ordered its shutdown to stop COVID-19’s spread.

The state prohibited in-person instruction, but many of the academy’s certifications require on-site training. Forced to close for three months with no revenue, Brian dipped into his savings and sold some assets to cover his rent and other bills. When the state allowed him to re-open, additional government-ordered safety measures cost thousands more to comply.

Brian was encouraged to learn of a COVID relief bill signed by the governor in November 2022 that aimed to distribute $75 million in small business grants. Five months later, the government unveiled the Inclusive Recovery Grant Program that promised individual grants of up to $75,000.

Brian met all the eligibility requirements for the academy’s finances, staffing, and business standing. He soon discovered, however, that his skin color and sex prevented him from even applying for relief.

It turns out “inclusive” is in name only. In reality, the grant program is exclusive, favoring select groups of business owners, including racial minorities, women, and LGBTQ individuals. Brian couldn’t even make it past the first few questions of the online application. That is, the government is using race and sex to exclude business owners from relief grants.

When the government benefits or burdens us based on traits we cannot control, it unjustly diminishes our individuality and institutionalizes and reinforces stereotypes. Such treatment also hinders opportunity. Business owners have a right to be treated as individuals and not as part of a group to which the government arbitrarily assigns them. Our country has had a terrible history of discrimination that cannot be remedied with more discrimination.

It’s also unconstitutional: The equal protection guarantee of the Fourteenth Amendment protects individuals from race- and sex-based discrimination.

Brian simply wanted the state to treat all applicants based on individual needs and merit rather than race and sex. Represented by PLF free of charge, Brian stood firm and fought back with a federal lawsuit to defend equality under the law. He challenged the state’s unlawful eligibility preferences in its Inclusive Recovery Grant Program to restore everyone’s right to equality before the law and won.

Ultimately, Brian dismissed the case because the state backed off from the unlawful grant terms, agreeing to award grant funds based on whether applicants have businesses focused on reaching disadvantaged groups and underserved markets, rather than applicants who are minorities, women, and LGBTQ.

What’s At Stake?

  • Massachusetts cannot use arbitrary racial distinctions to disfavor individuals for government benefits. COVID-19 relief is no exception. Racial discrimination is not only unjust but also unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Case Timeline

September 22, 2023
Notice of Dismissal
U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts
May 31, 2023
United States District Court for the Eastern District of Massachusetts