Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Attorney General Eric Holder have announced the settlement of a class action lawsuit filed against USDA by Native American farmers alleging discrimination by USDA. 

The settlement ends litigation concerning discrimination complaints from Native Americans generally covering the period 1981-1999.

“Today’s settlement can never undo wrongs that Native Americans may have experienced in past decades, but combined with the actions we at USDA are taking to address such wrongs, the settlement will provide some measure of relief to those alleging discrimination,” Vilsack said. “The settlement announced today will allow USDA and the Native American farmers involved in the lawsuit to move forward and focus on the future,” said Attorney General Holder. “Under the process established in this agreement, Native American farmers who believe they suffered discrimination will have their claims heard. The Department of Justice is proud to partner with USDA in the agency’s effort to ensure fair and equitable treatment of its clients.”

Under the settlement agreement, $680 million will be made available to eligible class members to compensate them for their discrimination claims. 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. Actual monetary awards are subject to reduction based on the amount of available funding and the number of meritorious claims.