Thursday, August 03, 2000

Minority firm accuses state of discrimination after firing

Project was study on how contracts awarded

By Liz Sidot
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — A minority company has accused the state of discrimination after being fired from a study of how Ohio awards work to minority contractors.

        The lawsuit filed by D.J. Miller & Associates Inc., of Atlanta, asks a federal judge to determine whether the state wrongfully terminated its contract and to block the state from hiring another company to complete the study until the lawsuit is resolved.

        A preliminary hearing was set for Tuesday in U.S. District Court.

        The Legislature commissioned the study following a 1998 ruling by U.S. District Judge James Graham that Ohio's program awarding contracts to minority-owned businesses is unconstitutional because it discriminates against non-minority contractors based on race. A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling. An appeal by the state to the entire appeals court is pending.

        Judge Graham's ruling also criticized the state for having little data on the program, and the study was commissioned to respond to that criticism by gathering data, said Scott Johnson, director of the Department of Administrative Service.

        “If the court were to determine wrongful termination, then one option would be reinstatement of the contract,” Larry James, the company's attorney, said Wednesday.

        Should the state lose its appeal, data from the study would be used in crafting a new program, Mr. Johnson said.

        D.J. Miller contracted with the state for more than $75,000 to complete the first phase of the study, in which researchers were to gather such information as how many contracts were awarded when and to whom.

        But on June 20, three months into the study, the state fired the company after chief researcher Vincent Eagen quit his job and the company tried to replace him with Edward Davis, dean of the School of Business at Clark-Atlanta University, Mr. James said.

        State officials didn't believe Mr. Davis was qualified to work on the study, a concern that is unfounded, Mr. James said. Mr. Davis has led more than 25 similar studies and has worked with the company since the 1980s, he said.

        Mr. Johnson said the state didn't question the amount of the new chief researcher's experience but was concerned about how recently that experience had been obtained.

        “The identity of the chief researcher and qualification of the chief researcher are critical to the evaluation of the program,” he said.

        Mr. Davis declined to comment on whether he was qualified to lead the study.

        Mr. James said he believes state officials were looking for a reason to get out of the contract. He said the state is considering replacing the company with a non-minority contractor.

        “Their mindset is that a majority company would do a better study that would be less suspect or less likely to be challenged,” Mr. James said.

        Mr. Johnson said several companies, both non-minority and minority, were under consideration to replace D.J. Miller, but the state has not yet contracted with any of them.


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