A federal judge Friday granted preliminary approval of the $1.25 billion class action settlement involving allegations of discrimination against black farmers.
Lawyers involved in the case in Washington federal district court said in court papers the settlement, which required congressional approval of the funding, is “the culmination of nearly three years of litigation and extensive negotiation” between the parties.
The tens of thousands of potential class members are black farmers who allege they were victims of U.S. Department of Agriculture loan discrimination but who did not have their claims resolved in an earlier suit.
The plaintiffs “believe this settlement is a landmark achievement in the struggle for civil rights in the United States, and a fitting end of the path toward justice carved by this court in Pigford more than a decade ago,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys said in court papers filed in March.
Judge Paul Friedman of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia today granted preliminary approval (PDF) and set a fairness hearing for Sept. 1. Friedman identified three lawyers as lead class counsel: Andrew Marks of Crowell & Moring; Henry Sanders of Chestnut, Sanders, Sanders, Pettaway & Campbell, in Selma, Ala.; and Gregorio Francis of Orlando’s Morgan & Morgan.
“We are obviously very pleased,” said Marks, a partner in the firm’s litigation and insurance groups. “It’s been a long time to get to this point.”
Marks continued: “The end result is to get the settlement finally approved so that the farmers who have been waiting decades, in some cases, can have their claims heard. Many of these farmers are old and dying and we want to get them compensation, where there’s been discrimination, for the wrongs they suffered.”
The settlement calls for a range of legal fees between 4.1% and 7.4% (about $51 million to $92.5 million) of the $1.25 billion that Congress appropriated to implement the deal. Friedman will have the final say on a reasonable fee.