Lawsuit halts Alexandria program aimed at helping minority-owned businesses

A program aimed at helping minority-owned small businesses has been delayed following a lawsuit against the City of Alexandria in Virginia.

First reported by ALXnow, the city said on Monday that it’s currently reviewing the details of a lawsuit challenging the BIPOC Small Business Grant Program, which is an “initiative that aims to retain and grow existing businesses, recruit new businesses and/or assist with startup activities.”

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“While many businesses have struggled and are still recovering in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, these hardships are particularly felt by Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) owned businesses due to structural barriers and discriminatory financial lending practices,” the City of Alexandria’s website said.

The lawsuit was brought by Tridentis LLC, an Alexandria-based engineering, logistics and program management firm.

Today, the City was served with a lawsuit challenging the BIPOC Small Business Grant Program. We are postponing the launch while we review the lawsuit. Despite this delay, the City remains committed to supporting our minority small business community and promoting equity for all.

— AlexandriaVAGov (@AlexandriaVAGov) January 24, 2023

The plaintiffs allege that to be eligible for the program, a business must “demonstrate that its owners are at least 51% black, Indigenous, or people of color. These BIPOC owners must come from one of four groups — Black or African American, Asian, Hispanic American, or Indigenous or Native American. In other words, no whites allowed,” according to court documents, adding that the program is “blatantly illegal.”

Under the program, which had been set to open on Jan. 26, qualifying businesses could receive up to $7,000. Small businesses had until Feb. 10, with winners announced in March 2023 and funds distributed in April.

The lawsuit, filed on Sunday, said that Tridentis satisfies all the “nonracial requirements” for the program, but would be ineligible to receive funds because of its owner’s race; the owner is white.

The company is asking the court to declare that the program violates the 14th Amendment, the equal protection clause that requires people in similar circumstances to be treated the same under the law.

Tridentis also asked for a temporary restraining order — which it withdrew on Tuesday following the city’s postponement of the program — and a preliminary injunction that bars the City of Alexandria from opening the application period, selecting applicants and enforcing the criteria of the program.

“As we evaluate the lawsuit, the Program will be put on hold. However, we want to reiterate the City is committed to serving all Alexandrians; we also remain focused on our responsibility to find equitable solutions that address the needs of our diverse small business community,” the city said.