DETROIT -- Vinnie Johnson's Piston Group on Tuesday made good on its promise to file a lawsuit against the Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council over its decision to decertify the auto supplier as a minority-run business.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Wayne County Circuit Court, alleges the council and its president, Michelle Sourie Robinson, were "vindictive, willful, wanton or malicious" in their actions to decertify Piston Group as a minority business enterprise in February, the company said in a news release. The organization decertified Piston Group on the grounds that the day-to-day operations of Johnson's company were largely run by white men, in violation of the organization's rules.
The loss of its minority business enterprise status could be quite costly for Piston Group. Automakers spend billions of dollars working with minority-business enterprises and tout those purchasing totals. Automakers' reactions to Piston Group's decertification could cause the suburban Detroit supplier to face steep financial consequences.
"Customers have contacted Piston Group and its subsidiary companies regarding MBE certification," the lawsuit said. "The lack of certification will impact customer relationships to varying degrees, but the extent is currently unknown."
The council said in a statement: "While we have not received a copy of the lawsuit, we find its reported premise to be without merit. Furthermore, 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."
The organization said it followed its processes in withdrawing the certification, including appeals.
"Membership in the MMSDC is voluntary and subject to acceptance of its rules," the statement said. "Our policies are not designed to create wealth for one individual, but to create wealth for entire communities of color through entrepreneurship."
At the center of the dispute is 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.