Settlement is Reached in Keepseagle Case
USDA, DOJ settle case brought by Native American farmers alleging racial discrimination.
Published: Oct 20, 2010
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Attorney General Eric Holder have settled another class action lawsuit filed against USDA. This suit, the Keepseagle case, was filed by Native American farmers alleging discrimination by USDA. The settlement generally covers the period 1981-1999. Under the settlement agreement, $680 million will be made available to eligible class members to compensate them for their discrimination claims. President Obama called the agreement an important step forward in remedying USDA's unfortunate civil rights history.
Two payment "tracks" are available. Under the first track, persons who meet the class definition and provide substantial evidence of discrimination to an impartial adjudicator will receive a uniform settlement of up to $50,000. The second track is for those persons who meet the class definition and believe they have stronger evidence of economic losses caused by discrimination. This track requires a higher evidentiary standard and damage awards are capped at a maximum of up to $250,000 per individual.
In addition, the agreement provides up to $80 million in debt forgiveness to successful claimants with outstanding USDA Farm Loan program debt. The settlement also provides a broad range of programmatic relief for Native American farmers, including creation of a new Federal Advisory Council for Native American farmers and ranchers.
President Obama says this settlement underscores the federal government's commitment to treat all citizens fairly. In light of that he urged Congress to implement the settlements of the Pigford II lawsuit*, brought by African American farmers, and the Cobell lawsuit, brought by Native Americans over the management of Indian trust accounts and resources. The President says his administration is also working toward a resolution of claims made by women and Hispanic farmers against USDA.
*Note: A similar settlement was reached for African American farmers earlier this year, but Republicans have blocked the funds.