USDA Employees Guilty of Discrimination Should Be Disciplined, Plaintiffs’ Attorney Says

December 10, 2010 - 8:04 AM

 

Eric Holder

Attorney General Eric Holder. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

 

(CNSNews.com) – An attorney who represented the plaintiffs in class-action lawsuits alleging that the U.S. Department of Agriculture discriminated against African American farmers says federal employees responsible for the discrimination should be disciplined.

“I think if individuals were found to have discriminated against African-American farmers, I think they should be subject to discipline,” David J. Frantz, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told CNSNews.com.

“Whether that’s losing their jobs, I don’t know,” Frantz continued. “These folks, for the most part, are federal employees so they have due process rights. But I think anybody who violates the rules and regulations of the Department of Agriculture and the laws should be subject to some form of discipline.”

Given that some of the discrimination occurred into the mid-1990s, Frantz said some involved in the discrimination are “probably” still employed by the government.

Another plaintiffs’ attorney, Andrew H. Marks, would not say whether USDA employees should have been fired for the alleged discrimination. “I don’t have a position on that,” Marks told CNSNews.com. “The USDA now, with this secretary, (is) rooting out vestiges of discrimination.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has not said whether any USDA employees faced firing or disciplinary action for the alleged discrimination (the denial of federal farm loans) that occurred between 1981 and 1996.

Vilsack told CNSNews.com the administration is focused on compensation rather than holding employees accountable.

The government has now settled with the black farmers for $1.25 billion, but in the settlement agreement reached in February, the USDA denied any wrongdoing.

As CNSNews.com has reported, President Barack Obama signed a bill settling the “Pigford II” case on Wednesday.

Some House Republicans have cited the lack of accountability by USDA employees as a weakness in both the Pigford I and Pigford II cases, including Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who believes Congress should investigate the case for possible fraud.

“They admit to no wrong doing; they press the taxpayers and apparently have succeeded in squeezing $2.3 billion out of the taxpayers; but…they don’t have any blame and they’re not punishing anybody,” King told CNSNews.com. “So, how can Americans that think logically accept that as a rationale position?”

Congress recently approved $1.15 billion on top of the $100 million approved in the 2008 farm bill  to compensate black farmers who say the USDA discriminated against them in the years between 1981-1996. The second Pigford case includes black farmers who missiled the filing deadline in the first, Clinton-era Pigford case.

As a result of the Clinton-era settlement (Pigford I), 22,550 black farmers filed claims. The U.S. government ultimately paid about $1 billion to 15,640 of them.

Much of the alleged discrimination occurred in the county offices of the USDA’s Farm Service Agency.

In an Oct. 15, 1999 article, the Associated Press quoted then-USDA civil rights director Rosalind Gray as saying, “In appropriate places, we will recommend disciplinary action,” in reference to the first Pigford claims.