Small W/MBE Claim at BJC North Campus Morphs to $150M Lawsuit

By on September 12, 2017

by Tom Finan, Executive Director, Construction Forum STL

A dispute over a few hundred thousand dollars that a W/MBE roofing contractor claims is owed her firm because of project delays on the BJC Kingshighway North Campus project has grown this week into a $150M civil rights lawsuit.

Longtime activist and construction gadfly Eric Vickers originally filed suit in federal court, requesting $5 million on behalf of CMT Roofing. Yesterday, he filed an amended  suit, adding an African American contractor association as plaintiff and increasing the requested damages to $150 million.

Vickers also filed a request for a temporary restraining order and a permanent injunction halting all work on the BJC Campus Renewal project, “until such time as Defendant ceases and desists its pattern of discriminatory conduct and remedies its racially hostile work environment.” (Click here to download a copy of the TRO request.)

The original action, filed by Vickers on August 22 (click here to download a PDF) and served to BJC’s attorneys this week, claims that BJC said it was supporting minority and women contractors, but allowed RSS Roofing, which partnered with CMT on the south Children’s Hospital tower roof, to bid $1.5 million for the job as the lead, while CMT, which performed all the work, bid $747,000.

The suit contends that scheduling issues delayed the start of work five months and that BJC did not support CMT through its claims process for additional compensation.

The suit Vickers filed claimed that CMT was owed additional payment and that BJC systematically violated the civil rights of minority contractors. It asked for damages of $5 million.

Neither RSS nor the ACW Alliance (a partnership of Alberici, Wilson, and Clayco that is managing the project) were named in the original suit. The suit further stated that when Cory Elliot, founder and owner of CMT, was contacted by media regarding the issues that have recently arisen with uneven concrete floors on the 6th through 12th floors of the North Tower building, she acted as a “whistleblower” regarding the issue. It said that BJC is retaliating against her for that action.

Tuesday, Vickers filed an amended complaint, adding another plaintiff, “African-American Business and Construction Workers Association,” which is described as, “having the long standing purpose and mission” “to advocate, agitate, and litigate on behalf of African-American businesses and construction workers in the St. Louis metropolitan area both in its own capacity and on behalf of its members (hereinafter referred to as “AABCA”).” (Click here to download the a PDF of the amended complaint.)

The amended complaint restates many of the items listed in the original complaint. It again asks for $5 million in damages for CMT and further asks the court to “establish a trust fund of One Hundred Fifty Million Dollars ($150,000,000.00) – 10% of the $1.5 billion BJC project – to be used by BJC to eradicate the racially hostile environment and for support services for minority businesses and workers.”

June Fowler, BJC senior vice president of communications, marketing and public affairs, declined through a BJC representative to speak to ConstructForSTL unless the sources of ConstructForSTL‘s information were revealed. The Forum declined, responding that the suit and amended suit were public record, and further that any other communication with ConstructForSTL enjoyed First Amendment protection.

Eric Vickers did not return a phone request for comment on the case. Attorney Vickers has a long history of civil rights actions related to the construction industry.

According to The Missouri Times, “The protest Vickers is most famous for is a blockade of I-70 back in 1999. Vickers organized the movement but quickly received support from Al Sharpton. Vickers was protesting the lack of minority workers on highway projects.”  About a year later he organized a similar protest blocking the route of Metrolink.

Cory Elliott

CMT is owned by Cory Elliott.  Prior to starting CMT, Elliott was a healthcare executive. Her last healthcare management position, prior to founding the company was executive director, facilities and support services with SSM.

Elliott — when faced with location to another state at a time when her twin sons were seniors at DeSmet High — decided to reinvent herself as a roofing contractor. Since it was started in 2012, CMT has completed projects at Lambert Airport, Timberland High School in Wentzville, and the recent conversion of the Arcade Building.

A Google search for “African-American Business and Construction Workers Association” does not produce any results. An article in the St. Louis American references the “African American Business and Contractors Association (AABCA)”. A search of Missouri State corporate registriations shows that Eric Vickers filed incorporation papers on Sept. 7 for the African-American Business and Construction Workers Association, listing “Makal Ali Mr.” as the incorporator. (Click here to download a PDF of the incorporation document).

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3 Comments

  1. Russ

    09/13/2017 at 12:24 PM

    Whatever the merit of CMT’s lawsuit, I do not see the $150 million additional cash grab by Vickers as helping the long term effort to include minority contractors. Is this not going to make non minority project developers gun shy? You might create an environment where projects avoid the potential of a racial law suit by simply avoiding inclusion. Figuring why get sued for inclusion, just take the risk of getting sued for non-inclusion.

    • Jason

      09/14/2017 at 4:37 PM

      This is a very interesting case in my opinion. I agreed at first with what you were saying, but it was more geared toward the short term impacts. Longterm, I believe this case will help shift the approach developers have toward inclusion of minority contractors. This longterm goal of being put on the same level playing field as non-minority project developers with the same standards of compensation. I see CMT’s lawsuit causing a lot of tension within the community given the racial tension St. Louis alone already has, but I’ll be very interested to see the facts of the case and hope if there was discrepancy in their compensation, they are fully awarded the money they were expecting/lost in order to complete the project. Can’t wait to read more

  2. AB

    09/17/2017 at 12:32 PM

    This story about BJC and the acquittal of the police officer who killed who murdered Anthony Lamar Smith are classic examples of how the entire system is rigged against any real leveling of the playing field for blacks in St. Louis and this country. The same cruel hoax that the judicial system used to justify the murder of Smith is the same hoax that BJC employs to portray themselves as a inclusive institution. BJC says that spent 192 million with minority contractors. But what is not revealed is the fact that the covert and sometimes overt racist policies that BJC uses to make it difficult for minority contractors to perform end up costing the minority contractors 20% more to perform their work. An example is a bait and switch the general contractors use in the bid process. The majority contractor gives the minority a scope of services to bid on. They submit their bid. The majority contractor will take their number and submit the bid to BJC. In one example a company, CMT Roofing, the company mentioned in this article, bid 730k to install a roof.
    The general submitted 1.7 million. Due to costs overruns, change orders, the cost zooms to 1.3 million. When the minority sub complains BJC who claims that they are committed to helping to level the playing field, tells the MBE this is free market, you are on your own. They do this with full knowledge that the original bid submitted by the MBE was insufficient, a fact only known by BJC and the white general contractor. This travesty is allowed to be perpetuated even though BJC hires so called consultants, mostly black who are supposed to review the bids to make sure that the MBEs are not being screwed.
    The only conclusion that can be drawn is that BJC and the construction industry are in collusion to portray athemselves as committed to the growth of MBE business when their real goal is to be able to say, ” we are trying to help these black businesses when their goal and the goal of the white construction industry is just the opposite.
    Another example of the collusion between BJC and the construction industry is BJC will prepare bid specifications that require a certain type of material. When the MBE contacts the manufacturer of the material they are told by the sales representative that they cannot sell them the material because they have relationships with the larger contractors who will punish them if they sell to minority contractors. Classic example of anti trust and discrimination. But what does that civil rights inclusive icon BJC do, the owner who controls the project do? They say tough shit when they are the ones who approved the specifications with full knowledge that the roofing manufacturer won’t sell the materials to the MBE.

    So how does this long story relate to the Smith killing. The system indicted a police officer for murder, assigned a judge who had a history of racism. Knowing the racist pedigree of the judge the defense attorney asks for a bench trial. The fix was in just like the fix is in at BJC. BJC is not alone in using bait and switch to give the impression of inclusion. The city of St. Louis procurement system employs the same tactics along with Clayco, SM Wilson, Alberci, McCarthy, essentially the entire majority construction industry.

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