Can a city prove intentional discrimination by relying on a disparity study whose conclusions and recommendations were lifted from another jurisdiction’s study? That’s the question city officials from Cleveland must ask themselves after reading this article from Cleveland.com.
Ever since four U.S. Supreme Court justices agreed in City of Richmond v. Croson that statistics could infer discrimination in limited circumstances, governments routinely spend huge sums of taxpayer money on disparity studies in an attempt to justify their race-conscious public contracting policies. That was the case for Cleveland, where city officials apparently entered into a no-bid $758,000 contract with a private consulting firm to specifically examine whether there were disparities for minority- and women-owned contractors in the award of the city’s public contracts.
Did the city get its money’s worth? You be the judge. Reporters claim the private consulting firm’s past disparity studies “contain the same legal reviews, conclusions and recommendations for government agencies from Florida to Missouri.” For instance, Cleveland.com reports: 1) the 36-page legal analysis for the Cleveland report is the exact same analysis completed for the Missouri Department of Transportation; 2) the study’s authors even forgot to delete references to the “Houston market area” which appears in the Cleveland study; 3) rather than conducting its own survey, the consulting firm relied on responses to questionnaires that were completed for the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District’s 2010 disparity study – a study which cost the sewer district $672,660. This editorial describes other troubling aspects about what happened.
By the way, according to an earlier report, the Cleveland disparity study shows that the city exceeded its race-conscious hiring goals for construction contractors among all racial minority groups. In court, I have argued that the government may not justify its use of racial preferences by just having a disparity study. The study’s methodology and findings, and whether the focus of the study is limited to those contractors who are qualified, willing, and able to perform the work described in the public contracts, are what is important. Cleveland’s recent experiences tend to prove my point.