City Council closes loophole in anti-discrimination laws governing procurement

(New York, NY) – The City Council yesterday passed Intro 1379 – a Stringer-Torres-Cornegy bill that closes a gaping loophole governing city procurement after a review of anti-discrimination laws by the Comptroller’s Office last year. The bill explicitly prohibits discrimination against firms owned by minorities, women, or LGBTQ individuals when they bid on contracts, a startling omission in the City’s laws. The passage of Intro 1379 – which was first introduced in September 2017 and backed by the Council’s Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus – codifies anti-discrimination protections to every business owner who bids on City contracts, regardless of background.

“Our laws should reflect our values, and they should protect right over wrong. This is another step forward for our M/WBEs. When we uncovered this gaping loophole, we knew it could open the door to prejudice. This law should close it once and for all,” said New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer. “Supporting our M/WBE businesses isn’t a choice. It’s a necessity, and it’s a strategy for economic success. When we invest in and stand up for these companies, we’re delivering real, local, community-level wealth creation. That is a victory for fairness – and our economy. I want to thank Council Members Torres and Cornegy for sponsoring this bill, their colleagues in the Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus for their unwavering support, and the entire Council for standing up for our M/WBEs.”

“These protections for M/WBEs are long overdue. New York City has an extraordinary wealth of qualified M/WBEs that have a right to a fair chance in winning public contracts,” said Council Member Ritchie Torres, Co-Chair of the City Council Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus. “This legislation is one of many important steps in closing the gap in awards. As a Council, we are committed to empowering M/WBEs, and we will continue this fight.”

Each year, the City spends more than $15 billion annually on procurement, purchasing everything from paperclips to firetrucks. While the City has made progress, recent reports from Comptroller Stringer show disparities.  In 2016, just $728 million – or 4.8 percent of total procurement spending – went to Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprises (M/WBEs) . Further, out of the 4,527 certified M/WBEs, only 994 received City spending on goods or services, meaning a whopping 80 percent of certified M/WBEs did not receive any City dollars.

While human rights laws protect New Yorkers from discrimination in housing and hiring, they do not apply to the City procurement process itself. This shortcoming leaves a gap in our anti-discrimination laws that, coupled with the historic underutilization of M/WBE firms, underscored the need to adopt Intro 1379.

Specific findings from the 2015 legal analysis conducted by the Comptroller’s Office include:

  • The New York State Human Rights Law section on unlawful discriminatory practices references employment advertisements and applications, but is silent on whether its protections extend to government contracting.
  • Similarly, the New York City Human Rights Law addresses “employment, public accommodations and housing and other real estate,” but does not explicitly mention City procurement.

Intro 1379 allows firms alleging discrimination to bring an allegation to the City’s Human Rights Commission, which has a well-established process for independently investigating discrimination allegations and enforcing local law.

The passage of Intro 1379 comes as the City is pursuing a goal of doubling the number of certified firms and awarding 30 percent of the dollar value of contracts to M/WBEs. New York City now joins other municipalities across the country in forbidding discrimination against any person or business bidding for a City contract.