White Colorado Businessmen Discrimination Trial Update
Earlier this month, Alma-based entrepreneur Stephen Collins sued the head of a Colorado agency, claiming a law allowing millions in COVID-19 relief payments to so-called “businesses owned to minorities ”was discriminatory against him because he is white. On October 12, a federal judge imposed a temporary restraining order in favor of Collins.
The defendant named in the lawsuit is Patrick Meyers, executive director of the Colorado Bureau of Economic Development and International Trade. Collins is represented by Pacific Legal Foundation, which describes itself as “a nonprofit legal organization that defends the freedoms of Americans when threatened by government abuse and abuse. We sue the government when it violates Americans’ constitutional rights – and we win! Each year, the PLF represents hundreds of Americans, free of charge, who seek to improve their lives but are stranded by the government. We give them their time in court to defend their rights and set a lasting precedent to protect everyone. ”
The law in question is Senate Bill 20-001, passed in the so-called Special Session of the Colorado Legislature last December, and the PLF really do not like it. Collins’ case marks the second time the firm has cited him in an action brought on behalf of a state client.
Collins owns Resort Meeting Source LLC, officially based in Breckenridge, whose website contains the following pitch in all caps: “LET THE EXPERTS AT RESORT MEETING SOURCE, LLC, MAY THEIR YEARS OF HOTEL EXPERIENCE WORKING FOR YOU. WE CAN HELP YOU THROUGH THE SITE SELECTION PROCESS AND HOTEL NEGOTIATIONS TO ENSURE YOU GET THE BEST POSSIBLE VALUE FOR YOUR GROUP, ALL AT NO COST TO YOU! ”
According to the PLF’s webpage on the case, the pandemic has been particularly harsh on Collins, resulting in “event cancellations in 2020 and 2021, from guests such as Snowbird Resort and the Hilton Penn’s Landing Hotel in Philadelphia, which were to attract hundreds of people. All in all, Steve lost almost 30 percent of his income. ”
Collins wasn’t the only one hit hard by the pandemic, and SB 20B-001 was designed to help a wide range of interests. Here is the legislative summary of its provisions:
• $ 37 million for direct relief payments to small businesses located in a county that is subject to, and in accordance with, severe capacity restrictions under a public health ordinance, with payments allocated to counties for distribution to eligible small businesses, whose businesses include restaurants, bars, cinemas, and fitness and recreational sports centers;
• $ 7.5 million for direct relief payments to eligible artists, team members, and arts, culture and entertainment organizations, with payments allocated by the Creative Industries Division of the Economic Development Office from Colorado;
• $ 6,775,000 $ 6,780,000 to the Ministry of Public Health and Environment to allow the ministry to contract with county or district health boards to provide public funding instead of local government agencies charging annual license fees to certain food retail establishments;
• $ 1.8 million $ 1,891,775 to the Ministère du Revenu to compensate for the ministry’s waiver of certain liquor license fees; and
• $ 4 million to be used by the Minority Affairs Office of the Colorado Economic Development Office to provide direct aid, grants and loans, as well as technical assistance and advisory support to minority-owned businesses.
This last element has fueled the anger of Etienne Hadre, a Colorado Springs barber who also suffered a major economic setback as a result of the COVID-19 measures; in February, with the help of the Pacific Legal Foundation, he filed for a preliminary injunction in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado. Specifically, Hadre asked the court “to strike down Colorado’s unconstitutional COVID relief program and to assert that the law violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”
In the case of Hadre, this argument did not prevail. PLF acknowledges that the lawsuit was “dismissed as immature”; according to Cornell Law School, a claim is not ripe when “the facts of the case have become an existing substantial controversy warranting judicial intervention”.
Despite this, after the filing of Hadre’s lawsuit, changes were made to SB 20B-001. “The revised law required all applicants to present minimum income losses of 20% since March 2020 and a lack of access to PPP loans,” PLF emphasizes. Yet the foundation maintains that “even if Steve met these and other strict eligibility requirements set out in the program, he would be at a disadvantage to receiving a grant for one reason only: his race.”
Collins’ lawsuit, filed Oct. 7, argues that “a non-minority business cannot be considered a” disproportionately affected business “unless it shows that it can respond to one of the other criteria specified in the bill, such as having five or fewer employees or being located in an economically troubled area. In contrast, minority-owned businesses are automatically classified as disproportionately affected businesses . ”
The judge assigned to the case is William E. Martinez; in his Oct. 12 order, he makes it clear that his decision to authorize a temporary restraining order was in part motivated by the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade’s plan to begin providing grants during the week of October 18. With a limited dossier currently before the Court, he cannot conclude that the law will survive scrutiny, ”he wrote. As such, the plaintiffs have demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on the merits. To be clear, the Court is not prejudging the content of the defendant’s response or the evidence he will provide in response to the petition, but reckons given the deadline for the OEDIT to award grants, the Court considers that the interests of justice are best served by the immediate issuance of a TRO to preserve the status quo. ”
The temporary restraining order will remain in effect until 11:59 p.m. on October 26, unless Martinez extends it; meanwhile, the plaintiffs have until October 22 to respond to the order. We have contacted the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade for comment.
Click to read Stephen E. Collins v. Patrick Meyers, the ordinance of October 12, Etienne Hadre c. Betsy Markey and Senate Bill 20B-001.