The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens

Discrimination cases continued pending details of USDA plans

A federal judge today continued the discrimination cases brought by Hispanic and female farmers against the Agriculture Department until June 23, when government lawyers expect to be able to present more details on USDA’s plans for an administrative claims process to resolve the issues.

Lawyers for the claimants in Garcia v. Vilsack, the Hispanic case, and Love v. Vilsack , the women’s case, and for the government all asked U.S. District Judge for the District of Columbia Reggie Walton for the continuance. Lawyers for an additional group of female farmers asked for an intervention so that they could be made party to the Love case, but Walton said he would not consider that request until the government has provided more information on how it will proceed with its plan to settle the cases through administrative means.

Stephen Hill, a lawyer for the Hispanic farmers, also presented evidence that a USDA official had recently made what he considered “disparaging” comments on the litigation, and asked Walton to issue an order stopping USDA officials from making such statements. Walton said he could not put restrictions on what USDA officials say to farmers in meetings, but would have a “real problem” if such statements were made to the media.

Hill also showed an advertisement put out by the Taos County (New Mexico) Economic Development Corporation which said that the administrative process would resolve the Garcia and Love cases, even though those cases are still pending before the court.

Lisa Olson, a Justice Department attorney, said she did not know about these incidents until today, and that the government would deal with any “isolated” cases of inappropriate comments, but could not put a gag order on what community groups say.

Hill submitted to the court a declaration by Ana Jana Flores, a farmer who attended a USDA meeting in Edinburg, Texas, on Monday. According to Flores, Max Finberg, the director of USDA’s center for faith-based and neighborhood partnerships, said that taking the administrative route USDA has proposed was the best option for settlement because the Garcia case is likely to drag on for 10 to 12 years, and that it would be unlikely they would receive any money if they go to court.

Flores also declared that Finberg said black and Native American farmers had gotten better treatment because Hispanics are underrepresented in Congress.

Finberg, in an email today, said “Because of the importance of the Hispanic and Women Farmers’ Claims Process which is voluntary for individuals who believe they were discriminated by USDA in loan making or loan servicing between 1981-2000, it is important to inform and educate people about the process. USDA along with the Texas Mexico Border Coalition held a session on April 11, 2011, during which I and another USDA colleague provided a standard presentation about the claims process. I did not suggest that individuals are required to participate in the claims process, and other remarks were clearly taken out of context.”

Information about the claims process can be obtained by calling 1-888-508-4429 or going to