Legal fight over Piston Group’s minority certification to resume with hearing

Detroit News

A legal battle over whether Piston Group LLC qualifies as a minority business is set to resume Wednesday with a hearing in Wayne County Circuit Court.

The 9 a.m. hearing before Judge David Groner comes weeks after the Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council filed a countersuit against the Southfield-based auto supplier, which is owned by former Pistons star Vinnie Johnson. Piston Group sued the council in May, seeking to overturn its February decision revoking the minority business certification of Piston Group’s four subsidiaries: Piston Automotive, Irvin Automotive Products, Detroit Thermal Systems and AIREA.

In June, Groner ordered the council to reinstate Piston Group’s status amid the litigation. At issue is whether the auto supplier’s daily operations are controlled by Johnson, who is Black, or a predominantly White group of managers.

The council argues that Piston Group doesn’t meet its guidelines, which according to its website, require that companies be controlled by U.S. citizens, be at least 51% minority-owned, operated and controlled, be a for-profit enterprise in the U.S. or its trust territories, and have minorities perform the management and daily operations.

“Pursuant to the Application, three of the four Officers of Piston Automotive including the President (Bob Holloway) and the COO/CFO (Gordon Fournier) are non-minority persons,” the council said in its countersuit. Yet, Piston Automotive’s organizational chart only lists Mr. Holloway as an officer, not Mr. Fournier which raises additional questions regarding organizational structure and management responsibilities. In addition, the Piston Automotive organizational chart shows that four of the eight direct reports to the President are non -minority persons.”

Mike Layne, a spokesman for the council and its president and CEO, Michelle Robinson, said Piston Group’s lawsuit “has no merit.”

“The Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council will vigorously defend against this frivolous lawsuit in court and aggressively litigate our counterclaims,” he said.

Piston Group declined comment through a spokesman, Shaun Wilson. In a June statement, an attorney for the company, Cinnamon Plonka, praised Groner’s decision to restore Piston Group’s minority certification.

“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,” Plonka said at the time.

In his order, Groner cited the potential loss of business opportunities for Piston Group and the company’s fear of “damage to their corporate goodwill, particularly if their decertification turns out to have been unwarranted.”

Staff Writer Candice Williams contributed.

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