Barbershop owner sues Colorado governor over COVID-19 relief earmarked for minority-owned businesses

The white owner of a Colorado Springs barbershop sued Gov. Jared Polis on Tuesday over newly-passed coronavirus relief designated for minority-owned small businesses, claiming the relief is unconstitutional.

Etienne Hardre, owner of Locals Barbershop, claimed in the lawsuit — which also names the state’s Minority Business Office and its director as defendants — that the $4 million in aid earmarked for businesses that are at least 51% minority-owned is unconstitutional because access to the aid is based entirely on race, and the state failed to show how the aid remedies discrimination or racism.

“The Supreme Court has held that if you are going to do race-conscious measures, you are required to specify the past or present discrimination you are remedying,” attorney Michael Kuhn said. “And societal, so-called systemic racism isn’t sufficient.”

The novel coronavirus disproportionately affects people of color, research has shown, but Kuhn argued that disparity is not enough for the state to base its relief on.

A spokesman for Polis did not immediately return a request for comment.

Hardre lost a third of his barbershop’s revenue during the pandemic, according to the lawsuit, and would apply for any available state aid — but because he is white he can’t receive the funds designated for minority-owned businesses.

“We have nothing against minorities, minorities are fantastic,” Hardre said. “However, everybody, all Americans, all Coloradans have been hurt. Business owners of all kinds, whites as well as minorities. We are doing our part to just raise a flag and say, ‘Hey, this doesn’t seem right to carve out the money for only one subsection of the Coloradans who have been hurt and ignore the others.’”

The lawsuit seeks to remove the race-based requirement from the aid. The $4 million designated for minority-owned businesses is part of a wider relief package signed into law Monday that includes $300 million in aid to small businesses, child care providers, nonprofit organizations, and struggling landlords and families.

The relief set aside for minority-owned businesses is part of $57 million designated for small businesses and arts organizations. Most of the money, $37 million, is earmarked for direct relief payments of up to $7,000 for businesses hit hard by the pandemic, like restaurants, bars and salons. To qualify for the relief, businesses must follow COVID-19 safety restrictions.

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