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Shelby County begins new disparity study

TN News - Published Jun 10, 2021

Shelby County is pursuing a new disparity study, which, if it finds the relevant disparities in utilization, may allow the County to consider race as a factor in the awarding of contracts. The prior disparity study was conducted in 2016; however, a 2019 lawsuit resulted in the County's ability to consider race as a factor in contract awards being struck down. 

The new disparity study is in its early stages, but a webinar with attendees representing local businesses who were there to provide feedback has already taken place. The prior study found the County was awarding 88 percent of construction, commodities, and professional services contracts to firms owned by white men, and only 5.8 percent to Black-owned firms. It found that while firms owned by white men received $168 million in contracts during the period of the study, if contracts were awarded according to what demographic availability would predict, such firms would have been awarded $107 million.

However, despite these findings, the County was prohibited from considering race as a factor in contract awardeds after it had to settle with a lawsuit filed by Mechanical Contractors Association of Memphis. The firm that had conducted the study did not share the data it had gathered, despite being ordered by a judge in the lawsuit to do so. Accordingly, the County was not able to use that data to justify its program.

In light of this, the County is currently pursuing its new study through a separate firm, which will conduct local interviews and focus groups as part of its study methods.