Less than a year after a multibillion-dollar settlement with black farmers, the Agriculture Department faces a discrimination complaint from Native American growers.
More than 200 American Indian farmers filed suit in U.S. District Court against the Agriculture Department last week, claiming that for decades they too have been subject to discrimination by USDA employees, lawyers said.
The complaint was almost a carbon copy of the allegations made by black farmers.
The black farmers and the American Indians claimed that for decades they were shut out of USDA loan programs, disaster assistance and other farm aid because of their race. When they filed government complaints, their arguments were ignored, according to their lawyers.
A USDA spokeswoman said yesterday that the department had not seen all the details of the lawsuit, but said Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman places "high priority on the civil rights for all our customers, including Native Americans."
Glickman has acknowledged past discrimination at USDA.
USDA agreed to settle the black farmers' lawsuit in January, clearing the way for an estimated 20,000 producers to receive money to compensate for alleged discrimination. Most claimants will receive a tax-free payment of $50,000, and debts to USDA will be erased.
Almost an equal number of farmers could be included in the American Indian lawsuit, said the lawyers, who also represented the black farmers.