A class action law suit has been filed against the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia. The suit is on behalf of the five farmers who are named plaintiffs and all other Pigford “late filers.” The suit seeks damages from the USDA for decades of racial discrimination in the operation of the agency’s farm loan and support programs. It’s intended to provide relief for the thousands of African-American farmers who were shut out of the 1999 settlement in Pigford v. Glickman, the original discrimination lawsuit against USDA. The Pigford case awarded almost $1 billion to African-American farmers whose civil rights had been violated by the USDA, but did not reach all farmers potentially eligible for the relief.
In hearings held by Congress in 2004 and again last year, it was determined that tens of thousands of potential Pigford claimants had not gotten fair notice of the settlement from the television, radio, and print campaign about the settlement in early 1999, and that, as a matter of fundamental fairness, they should be given another opportunity to obtain relief for the USDA discrimination. That opportunity was authorized by Congress in the recently enacted 2008 farm bill. A provision was included authorizing African-American farmers who would have qualified for Pigford relief – but were left out – to seek redress in Federal court. The bill provided $100 million to cover all new claims. J.L. Chestnut, from Selma, Alabama, and David Frantz of Washington, D.C., represented the Pigford plaintiffs and have filed this latest suit.
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