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Plaintiffs in discrimination lawsuit against USDA prepare for trial

Thursday, March 5, 2009

A class-action lawsuit brought by Native Americans against the USDA is going to trial.
A class-action lawsuit brought by Native Americans against the USDA is going to trial.

Native American farmers yesterday said they were prepared to go to trial in a 10-year-old class-action law suit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture, claiming a loss of $500 million as a result of loan discrimination over the past three decades.

The plaintiffs filed their class-action suit back in 1999, but had hoped to reach a settlement with the government, as happened with a similar class-action filed by African-American farmers, the Associated Press reported.

Native Americans allege that for the past 27 years they have been systematically denied the same opportunities to obtain farm loans that were made available to white farmers. In addition, they allege that the USDA undermined the work of its own civil rights division in the 1980s and refused or destroyed scores of civil rights complaints made by the plaintiffs, according to the law firm representing them.

The USDA has acknowledged wrongdoing already, according to plaintiffs' attorneys, in studies and reports issued in 1997 by the department's Civil Rights Action Team.

The lead plaintiff, Claryca Mandan of North Dakota, said 10 years is too long a wait for the trial. "We've heard 10 years of rhetoric," Mandan told the Associated Press. "We would like to see those words translate into action."

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