Thursday, October 22, 2009

Latino farmers seek class certification in suit against USDA

NPR reported 10 days ago about Latino farmers' decade-long quest for a remedy for the USDA's discrimination against them. Listen to Wade Goodwyn's story here. An excerpt follows:
The farmers say the department's Farm Services Agency discriminated against them — denying or delaying loans, and refusing to investigate when they cried foul.

The government settled a similar complaint brought by African-American farmers for $1 billion. And while the claims of discrimination and other factors are almost identical, the Hispanic farmers have gotten nothing.
Some of the individual tales featured in this report are truly heartbreaking--people who poured their hearts and souls into their farms, only to use them to USDA foreclosure after the agency had stonewalled on loan applications, providing funds too late in the planting season.

Interestingly, the USDA--from Dan Glickman who was Secretary of Ag in the late 1990s to Tom Vilsack today--does not deny the wrong doing. Here's what happened after the USDA's civil rights office was dismantled under the Reagan administration:

[C]omplaints were put into an empty government office and never investigated. By the 1990s, black farmers filed a lawsuit — Pigford v. Glickman. Because the USDA failed to investigate years of discrimination complaints, U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman certified the black farmers' case as a class action. And with that ruling, rather than risk a trial, the federal government settled with 15,000 black farmers for $1 billion.

The next year, Hispanic farmers filed their lawsuit. And although their discrimination complaints had been thrown into the same empty USDA office, the judge in their case decided the Hispanic farmers would not be allowed to sue as a class.

Now, however, Latino farmers are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to re-visit this issue and certify their class. Stephen Hill, lead counsel for the Hispanic farmers, comments:

It makes no sense legally, morally or even politically to treat these farmers the way they have thus far been treated. The claims are exactly the same as the claims as the black farmers, and they're entitled to the same recompense for their injuries.

No comments: