A Wayne County Circuit Court judge temporarily restored the minority business status of Piston Group.
Judge David Groner on Monday issued a restraining order for the Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council to give the lucrative certification back to the auto supplier as litigation continues.
Piston Group, owned by former Detroit Pistons guard Vinnie Johnson, sued the Council in May to restore the certification after months of battling. The Council pulled Piston Group's certification in February and questions whether Johnson runs the day-to-day operations of his large supplier, which operates four subsidiaries — Piston Automotive, Irvin Automotive, the Detroit Thermal Systems joint venture with Valeo and office furniture unit Airea.
To be certified, a company must be 51 percent majority-owned by a person of color, actively managed in the day-to-day operations by a person of color and operate independently, according to the organization.
The heads of Piston Group's four divisions are white, which the Council says violates its rules.
The Piston Group lawsuit alleges the pulling of its certification was improper because Johnson does run the day-to-day operations. The lawsuit also seeks monetary and punitive damages.
At stake is potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts for the growing suburban Detroit-based supplier. The certification is valuable as automakers look to expand spending on minority-business enterprises.
"We are delighted by the court's decision today ...We will continue efforts to vindicate Mr. Johnson and establish to the court that Vinnie Johnson owns, controls and manages Piston Group satisfying the necessary criteria to be certified as a MBE," Cinnamon Plonka, an attorney representing Piston Group. "The Piston Group is a minority-controlled business under every applicable standard. Today's ruling will allow Mr. Johnson to continue to devote his energies to managing the day-to-day operations of all the Piston Companies as a certified MBE and supporting our valued customers with outstanding quality, delivery and service."
The Council did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Piston and the Council have sparred for months over the certification. The MMSDC denied Piston Group an appeal of the decision, leading to the lawsuit.
Piston Group, the largest Black-owned auto supplier in the U.S., alleged in its lawsuit that the Council and its president, Michelle Sourie Robinson, were "vindictive, willful, wanton or malicious" in their actions.
The lawsuit alleges Robinson has an ax to grind with Piston Group, most notably being upset the company hired away a Council executive in 2018. The lawsuit also alleges Robinson threatened to decertify Piston on several occasions after Johnson declined to donate $300,000 to a Council initiative and failure to participate as a sponsor in the organization's golf outing fundraiser in 2019.
Following the lawsuit filing, the Council said in a statement, "We find it unfortunate that a corporation that, for years, benefited from minority business advocacy has now chosen to sue the MMSDC rather than comply with the rules that the organization applies to all of its member MBEs."
In a statement in May, Piston Group said it has 516 salaried employees in its offices across the U.S., 34 percent of whom are minorities and 31 percent women.
Piston Group ranks No. 64 on the Automotive News list of the top 100 global suppliers with worldwide sales to automakers of $2.8 billion in 2020. The company also ranks No. 1 on the 2020 Crain's Detroit Business list of largest African American owned businesses.