Resource: The Pigford Cases: USDA Settlement of Discrimination Suits by Black Farmers

By: Tadlock Cowen & Jody Feder

August 15, 2012

On April 14, 1999, Judge Paul L. Friedman of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia approved a settlement agreement and consent decree in Pigford v. Glickman, a class action discrimination suit between the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and black farmers. The suit claimed that the agency had discriminated against black farmers on the basis of race and failed to investigate or properly respond to complaints from 1983 to 1997. As of November 2011, 15,645 (69%) of the 22,720 eligible class members had final adjudications approved.

Many voiced concern over the structure of the settlement agreement, the large number of applicants who filed late, and reported deficiencies in representation by class counsel. A provision in the 2008 farm bill (P.L. 110-246) permitted any claimant who had submitted a late-filing request under Pigford and who had not previously obtained a determination on the merits of his or her claim to petition in federal court to obtain such a determination. A maximum of $100 million in mandatory spending was made available for payment of these claims, and the multiple claims that were subsequently filed were consolidated into a single case, In re Black Farmers Discrimination Litigation (commonly referred to as Pigford II).

On February 18, 2010, Attorney General Holder and Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack announced a $1.25 billion settlement of these Pigford II claims, contingent upon congressional approval of an additional $1.15 billion in funding. This occurred on December 8 (P.L. 111-291). On October 27, 2011, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted final approval of the settlement agreement.

The deadline for filing claims was May 11, 2012. Claim adjudications may be completed by Fall 2012, although it is estimated that payments will not be made before late 2012, nor concluded until early 2013.

This report highlights some of the events that led up to the original Pigford class action suit and the subsequent Pigford II settlement. The report also outlines the structure of both the original consent decree in Pigford and the settlement agreement in Pigford II. In addition, the report discusses the number of claims reviewed, denied, and awarded under Pigford, as well as some of the issues raised by various parties under both lawsuits. It will be updated periodically. [See web link for updates]