Attorneys for an Atlanta-based venture capital firm being sued over a grant program for Black women vowed Thursday to fight back against the lawsuit, calling it misguided and frivolous.
At a New York news conference, the attorneys also announced that prominent civil rights lawyers, including Ben Crump, would join the defense for the Fearless Fund, which was founded in 2019 by three Black women.
The lawsuit, filed last week in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, was brought by a nonprofit founded by anti-affirmative action activist Edward Blum, the man behind the Supreme Court cases that led to the dismantling of race-conscious college admissions programs across the U.S.
The complaint could be a test case, as the battle over considerations on race shifts to the workplace. Last month, thirteen Republican state attorneys general sent a letter to 100 of the biggest U.S. companies arguing that the court ruling on affirmative action could also apply to private entities, like employers.
In its lawsuit, American Alliance For Equal Rights argues the fund’s Fearless Strivers Grant Contest, which awards $20,000 to Black women who run businesses, violates a section of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 prohibiting racial discrimination in contracts. It claims it has members who are being excluded from the program because of their race and said it’s entitled to relief.
The venture capital firm was established to address barriers that exists in venture capital funding for businesses led by women of color. It runs the grant contest four times a year. To be eligible, a business must be at least 51% owned by a Black woman, among other qualifications.
“Today, the playing field is not level — that is beyond dispute,” Alphonso David, a civil rights attorney who serves as president & CEO of The Global Black Economic Forum, said at the news conference. “Those targeting Fearless Fund want to propagate a system that privileges some and shuts out most. They want us to pretend that inequities do not exist. They want us to deny our history.”
Crump said he was grateful to be able to defend the women who run the Fund against “the enemies of equality.”
Blum “thought they would be the easiest ones to pick off. Oh, was he wrong,” Crump said.
Blum said Thursday his organization is still awaiting a formal reply to the lawsuit from the fund’s attorneys.
“So far, all that has been asserted in defense of this racially exclusive and illegal program are meaningless cliches,” he said.
Arian Simone, CEO and co-founder of the Fearless Fund, said the fund has invested in more than 40 businesses over the past four years. She said it has deployed over $26.5 million in investments and awarded hundreds of grants that total more than $3 million. It is backed by J.P. Morgan Chase, Mastercard and other companies.
The prominent law firm Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher will also take part in the defense, along with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the National Women’s Law Center, which have been enlisted as consultants.
AP Business Writer Alexandra Olson contributed to this report.