Construction Firm Sues Denver School District for Alleged Discrimination

The owners of an architectural company have sued the Denver school system in federal court, alleging that the district’s process for selecting contractors for school construction discriminates against minority businesses.

The suit was filed by Ron and Mike Roybal, Hispanic brothers who co-own Roybal Corporation Architects.

According to the lawsuit filed in late July, the district is still neglecting to award contracts to minority and women-owned contractors even after recent efforts to select from a more diverse pool of candidates.

The construction company claims that after putting in bids for multiple solicitations from the Denver Public Schools, their company was rejected for all of them. In 2008, the brothers first started questioning the district’s process after they obtained records that indicated that only 2 percent of the district’s contractors were minority or women-owned.

Roybal Corporation applied in May 2015  for a district bid to renovate the Denver district’s Swansea Elementary School. The goal for that project, which had a budget of about $10 million for construction, was to award at least 70 percent of the construction work to minority or women-owned businesses.

In the suit, Roybal construction, established in 1982, claims they are “members of a protected class by virtue of their national origin, Hispanic; are certified minority business owners who have a right to make and enforce contracts without discrimination.” They further allege that “the (school district’s) refusal to award contracts to (Roybal Corp. Architects) for which they were otherwise qualified, was intentionally or purposefully discriminatory based on their national origin, Hispanic.” The lawsuit also claims that “as a result of (the school district’s) violation, (Roybal Corp. Architects) suffered and continue to suffer injuries, damages and losses.”

Denver schools superintendent Tom Boasberg said that the lawsuit was without merit.

“We categorically reject any allegations that there was discrimination of any kind in this bid,” Boasberg said in an interview with Marketplace K-12. The Roybal company didn’t win the school contract in question, he said, “because their bid was not the best bid.”

Boasberg said the school system had made a commitment to increase the opportunities for minority- and women-owned businesses in recent years, passing a new policy focused on making improvements in 2014.

And the district was meeting its objectives on that front, he argued. Boasberg said the district had set an initial goal to use minority- and women-owned businesses 24 percent of the time for all bond-funded construction, and it has topped that goal, reaching 31 percent.

“We are deeply committed to ensuring that our contracting practices afford opportunities for all contractors,” the schools chief added.

This post has been updated with comments from Denver’s school superintendent. Education Week Associate Editor Sean Cavanagh contributed to this article.

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