BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – A Birmingham attorney and restaurant owner says that the federal government discriminated against his business because he is a white man, and he’s taking the argument to federal court.
Garden and Galley, LLC, has filed suit against the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), arguing that officials illegally discriminated against its white male owner when it prioritized women and the socially and economically disadvantaged in dispensing pandemic relief funds.
In the lawsuit, attorneys for Garden and Galley, LLC, argued that the SBA violated both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause when it prioritized women and the socially and economically disadvantaged in disbursing the funds, which were allocated as part of the American Rescue Plan’s Restaurant Revitalization Fund.
Garden and Galley, located on Highland Avenue, is owned by Birmingham attorney Ed Hardin, according to business records.
“Despite applying for relief on the first day of the program, Garden and Galley was given non-priority status because it was not owned by a ‘socially disadvantaged individual’ or an ‘economically disadvantaged individual’ under the SBA’s regulations,” the lawsuit claims.
In 2021, the Small Business Administration disbursed billions of dollars to restaurants through Restaurant Revitalization Fund, granting priority status to businesses majority-owned and controlled by women, veterans, or the socially or economically disadvantaged. Within three weeks, federal officials had exhausted all of the funding that Congress had allocated for the program, including providing more than $150 million to nearly 900 Alabama businesses.
In the lawsuit, attorneys for Garden and Galley argued that the government’s prioritization of some businesses over others amounted to illegal discrimination.
“Once Garden and Galley and other applicants like it were classified as non-priority applicants, awards were made to businesses owned by women, veterans, and socially and economically disadvantaged individuals who applied after Garden and Galley applied,” the suit said.
The Birmingham business is not the first to file suit over the issue. In May 2021, a panel of federal circuit court judges ruled in favor of a Tennessee restaurant owner who made similar claims.
In that case, the only Black member of the panel, Judge Bernice Bouie Donald, dissented from the court’s decision,
“The majority’s reasoning suggests we live in a world in which centuries of intentional discrimination and oppression of racial minorities have been eradicated,” Donald wrote. “The majority’s reasoning suggests we live in a world in which the COVID-19 pandemic did not exacerbate the disparities enabled by those centuries of discrimination. The majority’s reasoning suggests that we live in a world in which Congress passed the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (not to aid the nation’s economic recovery, but to arbitrarily provide special treatment to racial minorities and women.”
In the Alabama suit, lawyers representing Garden and Galley have asked that the court award the restaurant damages in the amount of “at least $708,687.86.”
The U.S. Small Business Administration has not yet responded to Garden and Galley’s lawsuit. When asked for comment about the dispute, Garden and Galley owner Ed Hardin said the court filing “speaks for itself.”