Asked why Domar was decertified by the city, she said: "I guess what they found was that Mary was not playing an active enough role in the company for them." The company appealed the decertification but lost.
Theresa McClean said her brother Michael, also adopted, is now the main officer of the company and is trying to gain minority company certification on the grounds that he is half Latino.
'Old Boys Network'
Another obstacle to minority contracting programs, critics say, is a thriving "old boys network" in which established contractors prefer to do business with companies they know.
When Cordoba Corp. conducted public hearings into affirmative action contracting in Los Angeles in 1993, a steady stream of minority and women contractors testified that they were being shut out of public work by white male contractors who do business primarily with companies they know.
At the conclusion of a hearing in January, 1993, Alberto Juarez--who had worked for eight years as deputy director of the Office of Small Business Assistance under former Mayor Tom Bradley--testified that such complaints were well-founded.
"Middle level managers . . . who [have] created a very strong relationship with the 'good old boy network' . . . and have found ways to somehow subvert the process by which minorities can effectively participate," he said.
This old boys network, concluded the Cordoba study, "has dissuaded many [disadvantaged] firms from attempting to do business with the city. . . . The city has been a passive participant in the discrimination that has occurred."
Pedro Echeverria, senior assistant city attorney, responded that most of the complaints made in the Cordoba study involved "anecdotal evidence" that lacked corroborating details. He argued that in most cases, city contracts are awarded to the low bidder, preventing insiders from receiving preferential treatment.
Impact of Court Rulings
Affirmative action contracting also is stymied by court decisions that set strict conditions under which preferences may be given to minority firms.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that government agencies may set aside percentages of contracts for minority companies only if "disparity studies" show that such firms have been victimized by past discrimination.
Neither the state, county nor city has completed such a study that would hold up in court, government officials say. Lacking such studies, these government entities have taken cautious approaches to affirmative action and set modest goals for minority and women participation.
County officials have an outreach program to certify minority and women firms and to inform such businesses of upcoming contracts. The county has a goal that 25% of its contract funds will go to disadvantaged companies, but white male contractors are not required to make any special effort to hire such disadvantaged companies.
"We definitely encourage our prime contractors to hire minority and women firms," said May Kingi, county coordinator for contracting with disadvantaged businesses, "but we don't have the leverage to put a percentage in the contracts--it's strictly voluntary."
Los Angeles city officials are reluctant to call their program affirmative action.
"In fact," said Echeverria of the city attorney's office, "it would be more appropriately called an equal opportunity program for minority contractors."
Various city contracts set different target levels for minority and women participation. But, fearing legal repercussions, municipal officials shy away from using the term goals and instead use the euphemism, "anticipated levels of participation."
"It only requires that they [white male prime contractors] do outreach," Echeverria said. "It doesn't require that they attain a certain level of participation [by minorities or women]."
The Los Angeles Mayor's Business Opportunity Committee has an outreach program to help with certification of minority firms and referrals to prime contractors.
But the city policy is uneven. No city department requires white male companies to make "good-faith" efforts to hire minority sub-contractors. The huge Public Works Department, for example, does not require such efforts, but officials there have recently asked the city attorney's office for advice on the issue.
The state, like some city departments, requires prime contractors to make good-faith efforts to hire women and minority subcontractors to qualify for contracts. The state has set a modest goal that 15% of its contracting dollars will go to minority companies and 5% to those owned by women.
But in practice, the good-faith policy allows prime contractors to bypass compliance with goals simply by documenting efforts to locate minority- and women-owned businesses, according to minority and white contractors.
Minority contractors say good faith is often nothing more than a loophole, and white contractors complain that it can unfairly penalize those who legitimately try to meet the goals.