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Five Baton Rouge-based cleaning companies are suing Philadelphia-based Aramark, claiming the corporate giant used them last year to help retain a lucrative contract with the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, only to later renege on the deal.

The five companies, who’ve banded together as the Business Partners Alliance, want the court to block Aramark and another company, the Atlanta-based Carter Brothers, from terminating their old operating contract and seeking proposals from competitors. They filed the litigation Friday.

State District Justice Janice Clark has scheduled a hearing on Sept. 10 on whether to grant the plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction. Clark has yet to rule, though, on whether to issue a temporary restraining order that would take effect immediately.

Of the five allied companies, the chief executive officers of four have signed an affidavit saying they are willing to testify to the accusations. They are Brenda Sims with Final Touch Custodial Service LLC, Danny Bonfiglio with Jani-Care Commercial Cleaning Service & Supply Inc., Will Campbell with Millennium Consultants, and Carranza J. Guidry with Rover Janitorial Service LLC. The chief executive officer of the fifth company, Expert Cleaning Inc., did not sign the affidavit.

The Business Partners Alliance alleges that Aramark and the Carter Brothers are violating Louisiana’s Antitrust Law, engaging in a variety of unfair business practices.

Several of the companies that make up the alliance are minority owned, helping the school system’s meet its goal of having 20 percent of its business go to minority- and women-owned businesses. The companies say they have suffered financial losses due to the behavior of the defendants, noting at least one of the companies has consequently sought bankruptcy protection.

Guidry, who often goes by "C.J.," is well known in school circles. He has given generously to candidates for School Board through the years. He did not return messages left with him seeking comment.

Much of the case centers around a letter of intent Business Partners reached with Aramark on March 31, 2017.

Aramark had drawn up the letter 21 days before in order to keep in these five companies on board as its subcontractors while it prepared its proposal to keep the facility management contract with the school system, which Aramark has held since 2004. Rather than negotiating an extension with Aramark, the school system opted in 2017 to seek new proposals from Aramark and competitors. The five companies became the Business Partners Alliance and prepared their own application to do the work Aramark had been doing.

On March 31, the deadline to apply, Aramark’s then associate vice president, Terrance Ransfer, made a last-minute oral promise to increase the pay rate of the Business Partners if the companies pulled their application, and the companies agreed, according to the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs argue that Aramark’s successful retaining of the contract “could not have been consummated without the active cooperation of the Business Partners.” Yet, they claim, Aramark never lived up to its end of the bargain.

“Contrary to the representations of Aramark, the defendants had no intention of honoring any promises made to Business Partners,” the lawsuit alleges.

While the Business Partners signed the letter of intent, Aramark did not, according to the lawsuit. Aramark also allegedly did not inform Business Partners that it had already partnered with Carter Brothers and that Business Partners from then on would be dealing with the Carter Brothers, not Aramark.

The lawsuit alleges Carter Brothers has been “harassing, intimidating and holding Business Partners’ checks so they can’t pay their over 600 employees.”

This harassment came to head last Friday when Carter Brothers said they were about to terminate the contract with the five subcontractors unless they agreed to allow the company to seek proposals from competitors. That same day, Business Partners filed the lawsuit.

Aramark has a great incentive to cut its expenses. Aramark beat out 11 bidders to keep the contract. After months of negotiation, Aramark agreed to reduce its overall annual price from $27.2 million to $21.9 million, a savings to the school system of $5.3 million. That was $3 million less than the price Aramark submitted in spring 2017, but still $2.3 million more than the price of its chief competitor, Cleveland-based GCA Services Group.

Dele and Felicia Adebamiji are the attorneys for the Business Partners Alliance. A clerk in their law office told The Advocate on Wednesday that they have no comment on the litigation they’ve filed.

A spokeswoman for Aramark said the company has not yet been served the litigation and therefore had no comment. Attempts to reach Carter Brothers representatives were unsuccessful.

Besides Aramark and Carter Brothers, the plaintiffs named the school system and former Aramark executive Ransfer as defendants. The lawsuit blames the school system for a lack oversight and breach of fiduciary duty.

“We take strong exception to being made a defendant in this litigation,” said Domoine Rutledge, general counsel for the school system. "A plain reading of the petition does not evidence an alleged valid claim against us, which leaves us puzzled as to why we were made a defendant. Frankly, we find this litigation, as it relates to the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, to be wholly without merit.”

Attempts to reach Ransfer were successful.

Follow Charles Lussier on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.