In 1997 and 1998, two class-action lawsuits were filed on behalf of groups of African-American farmers against the U.S. Department of Agriculture alleging discrimination based on race. These cases were Pigford v. Glickman (“Pigford”) and Brewington v. Glickman (“Brewington”). The lawsuits alleged violations of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act.
The two cases were consolidated and settled in April of 1999, which is known as one of the largest civil rights settlement in history. The terms of the settlement stated that any other eligible claimants were required to file claims by October 12, 1999, only six months after the Pigford and Brewington settlement was reached. Should a claimant have missed that October deadline, he or she would be allowed submit claims by the “late-filing” deadline of September 15, 2000, only if the claimant could show "extraordinary circumstances" for missing the 1999 deadline.
Approximately 61,000 claimants requested to file claims after the October 12, 1999 claims deadline, but before the September 15, 2000 "late-filing" deadline. Of those who filed late, less than 3,000 were found to have demonstrated "extraordinary circumstances" for receiving extra time to file their claims. As a result, more than 58,000 late-filers did not have their discrimination claims heard. Farmers’ advocate John Boyd took the lead in lobbying Congress to provide enabling legislation to allow Pigford late-filers another opportunity to have their claims determined on the merits. Congress held hearings on the matter, and in the meantime, law firms began signing up potentially eligible farmers in the event enabling legislation was passed.
On June 18, 2008, Congress passed a law providing claimants with a new right to sue for those discrimination claims if they had petitioned to participate in the Pigford case. The 2008 Farm Bill as it was known, is Section 14012 of the Farm, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008.
Consequently, the lawsuit, In re Black Farmers Discrimination Litigation, No. 1:08-mc-00511, arose to address the injustice suffered by black farmers who filed late under the Pigford and Brewington settlements. The new lawsuits were consolidated before Judge Paul Friedman in the District of Columbia.
On February 18, 2010, recognizing that $100 million would not be enough to pay all valid claims, and after nearly two years of litigation, the U.S. Department of Justice entered into a settlement agreement that would require Congress to fund an additional $1.15 billion settlement for tens of thousands of farmers, for a total funding of valid claims equal to $1.25 billion.