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PLF Lawsuit Targets Caltrans' Race- and Sex-Based Quotas on Road, Highway Projects.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) is violating the state and federal constitutions with its new program that uses race- and sex-based quotas in awarding contracts on federally funded projects. So contends a federal lawsuit filed today by Pacific Legal Foundation attorneys, representing Associated General Contractors of America, San Diego Chapter.

At issue is Caltrans' 2009 Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) Program. On projects that receive federal funds, Caltrans sets a quota of having 6.75 percent of contracts go to women or members of targeted groups - African American, Asian-Pacific American, and Native American (but not Latinos or any other group) - through use of race or sex in awarding contracts.

"Caltrans is sideswiping opportunity by using race, not lowest cost by a responsible bidder, to decide who gets government contracts," said PLF Principal Attorney Sharon Browne. "Caltrans' scheme of coding contractors by color is not only unfair and wasteful of tax dollars, it is unconstitutional."

For several years PLF contends that Caltrans sought approval for quotas from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The agency formally approved the quotas this spring. However, "this federal 'permission slip' to discriminate doesn't pass muster," said PLF's Browne.

PLF's lawsuit contends:

1. Caltrans' quotas are invalid under the U.S. Constitution. Under the Equal Protection Clause, race- and sex-based preferences are allowed only to address clear evidence of discrimination. Caltrans has not supplied such evidence.

2. Caltrans' quotas are invalid under the California Constitution (Proposition 209, the voter-approved ban on race- and sex-based preferences in public contracting, employment, and education). Caltrans' quotas are not "narrowly tailored" to respond to specific, identified discrimination. Also, Caltrans cannot demonstrate it will lose federal money if it does not implement quotas.

The case: Associated General Contractors of America, San Diego Chapter, Inc., v. California Department of Transportation. Information: www.pacificlegal.org.
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Publication:Business Wire
Date:Jun 11, 2009
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