Denver Public Schools discrimination lawsuit to be resolved outside the courtroom

The owners of Roybal Construction have agreed to drop their contract-discrimination lawsuit against Denver Public Schools, saying they have decided to pursue a less adversarial approach.

“It’s an attempt to get some meaningful discussions without the tensions of a lawsuit,” Ronald Roybal told The Colorado Independent.

Roybal and his brother Michael, co-owners of Roybal Construction, filed the discrimination suit in July. Several reports have confirmed their argument that the ethnic makeup of DPS contract recipients does not mirror the city’s overall diversity. But on Friday, the plaintiffs agreed to dismiss the suit, saying they preferred to work with DPS to find solutions in a less antagonistic setting.

The Roybals agreed to a “stipulated motion to dismiss without prejudice,” which means that the Roybals can choose to re-file if their efforts to reconcile with DPS outside the courtroom are not fruitful.

“The district will continue to meet and collaborate with the Roybals on ways DPS can continue to improve the school system’s MWBE program,” DPS spokesman Will Jones said in an email. “The Roybals and DPS are now at a level of trust and collaboration which provided the opportunity for this dismissal.”

Roybal said that the financial burden of legal action contributed to their decision.  “Small businesses like ours don’t have the resources to enter into long-term lawsuits, so we prefer to have discussions and make changes without the tensions,” he said.

DPS’s questionable contracting, and the Roybals’ skepticism, stretches back several years. In 2014, a district-commissioned report showed troubling disparities in representation for women and minorities among contract awardees.

The district also awarded only two percent of its construction contracts for a 2008 school bond to minority-owned construction companies. That’s in a city that is at least 30 percent Latino and 11 percent black. The revelation led several businesses to withdraw their support for this year’s school bond measures, 3A and 3B. The measures ultimately passed.

In response to the 2014 report, DPS implemented programs to increase diversity in its awardees.

But Roybal says that DPS exaggerates those programs’ success. He says that the numbers the district touts seem like a positive development on their face, but because DPS tends to award contracts to minority-owned businesses that are large and outside Colorado, they are presenting a false narrative.

“DPS is really good at spinning numbers,” he said. “The spirit of the program was to help small, local, minority-owned businesses. The reality is that they’re not utilizing small, local minority businesses in any meaningful way.”

DPS did not respond to requests for comment on the program in time for this story’s deadline.

Roybal also finds a certain hypocrisy in the district’s failures to fulfill its diversity promises.

“The voters that voted for [3A & 3B] included a huge contingency of minority families,” Roybal said. “DPS tends to come to our community to ask for support, and then turn their backs on the community they’re supposed to be representing.”

Still, he’s optimistic that DPS will agree to pursue satisfactory measures toward equitable contracting, if only because of prevailing sentiment in the district. “The general public has seen that these things are not equitable,” he said. “We’re hopeful that, after all the negative discussions we’ve been having, maybe something positive will come out of it.”

Photo Credit: lesbian heart, Creative Commons, Flickr