In all things, fairness is everything. An even playing field creates opportunities, competition, and success. It's a cornerstone of the American way of life. And it's instilled in our laws.
Eleven years ago, a group of Native American farmers filed a class action lawsuit against the US government. The farmers claimed the US Department of Agriculture (USDA):
- Denied, for decades, thousands of Native American farmers and ranchers the same low-interest government loans made available to white ranchers and farmers
- Failed to give the Native Americans help with preparing loan applications
In late October 2010, the US government agreed to settle the case. Under the settlement agreement, the US will pay $680 million in damages. It also will forgive another $80 million in outstanding loans held by Native American farmers and ranchers.
That means farmers and ranchers who qualify could get a $50,000 to $250,000 cash payment, depending on what each can prove he lost because of the lending discrimination. Also, the USDA will improve its farm loan services for Native Americans.
Not the First Time
It's not the first time the US - and the USDA in particular - has been sued. African American, Latino, and female farmers and ranchers have won billions in class action lawsuits. Like the Native Americans' suit, they claimed the USDA discriminated against them when it came to loans.
The USDA isn't the only target, either. In 2010, a class action suit was filed against the US Census Bureau for discriminatory hiring practices. And the Small Business Administration (SBA) is accused of denying a lender's license to a venture capital group because the owner is African American.
It's The Law
There are all sorts of state and federal laws banning all sorts of discrimination. As society, we've decided that everyone should be treated fairly. No one should be treated differently because of his race, age, sex, handicap, etc. It's not the way things are supposed to work here. Our Declaration of Independence recognizes that we're all created equal - and that notion is instilled in our laws.
The farmers' suits and other discrimination lawsuits show that no one - not even the huge and powerful US government - is above the law. It is, and must be, held accountable for discriminating against its own citizens.
What You Can Do
Don't tolerate discrimination in any form. Demand to be treated the same as everyone else, whether you're looking for a loan, an home to buy or rent, or a job.
Do some research and learn about when, where, and how discrimination happens. Talk to whoever is treating you unfairly and try to resolve the problem. If that doesn't work, contact the Civil Rights Division at the US Department of Justice. Or, contact your state's human rights commission.
Discrimination can't be tolerated. Once planted, it can grow and fester until it's widespread and out of control. Make a stand and fight it - no matter how big the other side is.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Do I need to file a complaint with a federal or state agency before I can file a discrimination lawsuit?
- How do I join a class action lawsuit? Should I join one, or should I file my own lawsuit?
- Is 11 years a normal amount of time for a lawsuit to settle?