A racial discrimination lawsuit involving the Danville Redevelopment and Housing Authority and a Martinsville contractor began Monday with jury selection, opening statements and testimony from the president of the company suing the DRHA.
The lawsuit claims along with a breach of contract, the DRHA discriminated against Carnell Construction Corp. of Martinsville on the basis of race. Both Carnell’s president, Michael Scales, and the firm’s project superintendent are black.
The plaintiff claims DRHA and its subsidiary, Blaine Square, LLC, breached their contract with Carnell in regards to construction plans and timeline for completion of the project to build low-income housing in Danville. It also claims DRHA discriminated against Carnell through a series of actions and statements from its leaders.
On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Jackson Kiser began rifling off questions to potential jurors over possible bias and conflict based on personal and professional experiences.
From there, attorneys from all three parties gave their opening statements. First up was Jon Harmon, who was representing Carnell, along with Jeff Shapiro and Ebb Wiliams. Harmon began by pulling an easel to the front of the cavernous courtroom and greeting the seven jurors.
He succinctly laid out the complicated framework of Carnell’s allegations against DHRA and Blaine Square, LLC, using the easel to write down the major players in the case.
Carnell claims in March 2008 it was awarded a contact to do site work on Blaine Square Hope VI Phase Four Project to build low-income housing in Danville. For the next several months the company worked on its part of the project — mainly grading — before the operation began to break down.
Harmon explained DRHA’s executives treated Carnell differently and were a hindrance to its work on the project.
Harmon was followed by Lauren P. McLaughlin, who represents fellow counterclaim defendant, International Fidelity Insurance Co. IFIC insured Carnell’s work, guaranteeing DRHA it would complete work on the site if Carnell somehow defaulted on the contract. DRHA, in a counter lawsuit, claims Carnell did default and IFIC didn’t arrange to have the work completed.
McLaughlin explained to the jurors Carnell didn’t default and DRHA’s argument it did is based on a series of conflicting accounts from the housing authority about how the two companies parted ways.
Finally, Glenn Pulley, who represents DRHA, laid out his client’s defense. He relayed to the jurors DRHA had been falsely accused of racial discrimination and the case is merely a contract dispute with Carnell attempting to mask its poor work.
After a recess, the attorneys for Carnell called Michael Scales as their first witness. Scales testified for more than two hours about his experiences in the case, walking the jurors through the contract process and into his company’s actual work on the project. He then began speaking about how relations began to break down before Kaiser suspended the case for the day.
The trial is set to resume at 9:30 Tuesday.