The Southwest Airlines gates of National Airport are almost completely without flying customers, showing the impact COVID-19 is having on air travel.
A Black-owned company that provided food and beverage concessions at the Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport in Mississippi is suing the board that oversees the airport after its contract was cancelled.
Representatives for Michigan-based Jacobsen/Daniels Associates filed a federal lawsuit Oct. 2 against the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority and Chief Executive Officer Paul Brown. Company officials allege breach of contract and that Jacobsen/Daniels was treated differently than other businesses at the airport.
According to court documents, Jacobsen/Daniels spent more than $2 million on improvements at the Jackson airport after assuming the food and beverage concessions contract in 2018.
“The defendant (JMAA) treated plaintiff differently than other white-owned businesses that operates at JAN (Jackson airport), specifically because plaintiff is an African American-owned business,” Jacobsen/Daniels representatives said in the lawsuit.
But airport authority attorney Dorsey Carson said Jacobsen/Daniels breached its contract when it unilaterally shut down its last concession over the Memorial Day weekend, normally one of the busiest periods at the airport.
“Jacobsen/Daniels informed JMAA that it would not reopen unless JMAA agreed to a new contract with favorable treatment,” Carson said. “JMAA treats all vendors equally, and Jacobsen/Daniels was properly terminated. The Jackson Municipal Airport Authority will vigorously defend itself against the frivolous allegations made by Jacobsen/Daniels.”
Passengers walk through the terminal at the Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport in Rankn County. (Photo: File/The Clarion-Ledger)
Jacobsen/Daniels officials said they had a meeting scheduled for March 16 with Brown over the lease, but Brown cancelled the meeting. It was during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. While other concessionaires in the airport terminal were closing or limiting services due to the pandemic, Jacobsen/Daniels continued to operate.
- A reduction in workforce of approximately 8%
- A hiring freeze
- Elimination of certain executive positions
- Energy conservation measures
- Restrictions on discretionary purchases
- Decrease in consultant contracts of 67%
In April, Jacobsen/Daniels officials discussed with airport officials the impact of COVID-19 and sought some of the Cares Act funding it believed the Jackson airport received or would receive to help business partners, company attorney Matthew McLaughlin of Jackson said in the lawsuit.
The airport authority said they would defer April, May and June payments from airport businesses to early 2021, but refused to eliminate payments, according to the lawsuit.
On May 5, Jacobsen/Daniels officials said the company wrote a letter to the airport authority expressing disappointment that its items hadn’t been considered including abatement of rent during the pandemic since JMAA had received Cares Act funds.
The airport authority board allowed Jacobsen/Daniels to temporarily close due to reduced activity at the airport because of COVID-19 in late May. However, later JMAA said it was cancelling the agreement, according to Jacobsen/Daniels’ lawsuit.
Jacobsen/Daniels officials in the lawsuit said they havebeen unable to reach an agreement with JMAA on a revised contract.
The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages against the airport authority, the board appointed by Jackson’s mayor and confirmed by the city council.
Contact Jimmie E. Gates at 601-961-7212 or [email protected] Follow @jgatesnews on Twitter.
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