Five Hispanic farmers have filed a putative class action in a D.C. district court against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), to seek “redress from Defendants’ unconstitutional treatment in the proposed settlement of discrimination claims by these Hispanic Plaintiffs . . . as compared to the manner in which Defendants have settled identical discrimination claims by similarly situated African-American and Native American claimants, . . . all of whom were undeniably discriminated against in like manner by [USDA] in the administration of its farm credit and non-credit farm benefit programs.” Cantu v. United States, No. 11-00541 (U.S. Dist. Ct., D.D.C., filed March 15, 2011).
According to the complaint, the government has paid African-American farmers about $1 billion in settlement benefits, and legislation signed into law in December 2010 provides an additional $1.25 billion to settle African-American farmers’ claims. Native American farmers were purportedly offered $680 million in compensation and $80 million in debt forgiveness to resolve their claims. In contrast, the government allegedly offered $1.33 billion to settle the combined claims of Hispanic and female farmers, who outnumber African-American farmers by at least 12 to 1 and as much as 27 to 1, according to government statistics cited in the complaint. The plaintiffs also allege that the settlement dispute resolution system for African-Americans and Native Americans is less expensive and burdensome than the system offered to settle the Hispanic and female claims.
The complaint details the discriminatory treatment purportedly accorded the named plaintiffs when they sought special loan packages, loan servicing, disaster relief, or operating loans for their farming operations from federal agencies. Among other matters, the plaintiffs contend that USDA has “willfully failed to investigate complaints of discrimination in its farm benefit programs filed by Hispanic farmers and continues to fail to investigate such complaints of discrimination (including those of Plaintiffs) to this day.” They seek to represent a class of Hispanic farmers “who farmed or ranched, or attempted to farm or ranch, during the period January 1, 1981 to the present and who complained to the USDA about its acts of discrimination.”
Alleging violations of their equal protection and due process rights by governmental and individual defendants, the plaintiffs request a declaration that their constitutional rights were violated, a permanent injunction prohibiting the defendants from treating Hispanic farmers “unequally” in the settlement of their claims, attorney’s fees, and costs.