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Friday, October 28, 2011

Garcia v. Vilsack: A Policy and Legal Analysis of a USDA Discrimination Case

Jody Feder
Legislative Attorney

Tadlock Cowan
Analyst in Natural Resources and Rural Development

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has long been accused of unlawfully discriminating against minority and female farmers in the management of its various programs, particularly in its Farm Service Agency loan programs. While USDA has taken concrete steps to address these allegations of discrimination, the results of these efforts have been criticized by some. Meanwhile, some minority and female farmers who have alleged discrimination by USDA have filed various lawsuits under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). Pigford v. Glickman, filed on behalf of African-American farmers, is probably the most widely known, although Native American and female farmers also filed suit in Keepseagle v. Vilsack and Love v. Vilsack, respectively.

In addition, a group of Hispanic farmers filed a similar lawsuit against USDA in October 2000. The case, Garcia v. Vilsack, involved allegations that USDA unlawfully discriminated against all similarly situated Hispanic farmers with respect to credit transactions and disaster benefits in violation of the ECOA, which prohibits, among other things, race, color, and national origin discrimination against credit applicants. The suit further claimed that USDA violated the ECOA and the APA by systematically failing to investigate complaints of discrimination, as required by USDA regulations. After nearly a decade of litigation and numerous rulings on procedural and substantive issues, the Garcia plaintiffs exhausted their final avenue of appeal to have their claims heard as a class action. As a result, the Garcia plaintiffs who wish to pursue their available claims in court must do so individually, or they and other eligible Hispanic farmers may participate in a settlement process recently established by USDA.

In addition to an analysis of the Garcia lawsuit, this report also discusses several possible options for Congress to consider if it wishes to respond to the Garcia dispute.

Date of Report: October 17, 2011
Number of Pages:
Order Number: R
Price: $29.95

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