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Wilson Sonsini Files Pro Bono Lawsuit Against USDA Alleging Discrimination Against Farmers of Color
[April 01, 2024]

Wilson Sonsini Files Pro Bono Lawsuit Against USDA Alleging Discrimination Against Farmers of Color


Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, the premier provider of legal services to technology, life sciences, and growth enterprises worldwide, has filed a lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of pro bono clients, Angie and Wenceslaus (June) Provost Jr., along with a proposed class, in response to alleged discriminatory practices against Black and minority farmers.

The lawsuit contends that despite a prior settlement in the Pigford litigation-one of the largest civil rights class action lawsuits in U.S. history addressing discrimination in federal farm programs-the USDA's prejudiced practices persist. The alleged practices include, but are not limited to, disproportionately denying loans, imposing unfair terms, delaying loans, and/or treating individuals differently based on race. Furthermore, the complaint alleges that the agency has been negligent in promptly addressing discrimination claims and has proceeded with foreclosure on farmers with pending complaints. As a result, significant barriers to economic mobility have been created, and generations of disenfranchisement have been perpetuated.

Agriculture is the heart and soul of life for the Provosts, who reside in New Iberia, Louisiana. June, a fourth-generation sugarcane farmer, grew up tending to his family's vast 4,000+ acre farm alongside his father and brothers. Eventually, he and his wife, Angie, assumed full responsibility for its operations. Despite their hard work, years of inadequate funding through loans hindered June and Angie's ability to acquire and maintain equipment and hire workers, resulting in the loss of the family's farm.

"Farmers deal with all sorts of challenges, from pests to unpredictable weather messing with crop yields," explained Angie Provost. "Yet for farmers of color, there's an extra layer of difficulty. We often face bias from government agencies and get treated unfairly by lenders, unlike our White counterparts dealing with similar issues. These hurdles together reinforce the unfair idea that Black and other socially disadvantaged farmers aren't cut out for the job, making it harder for us to get the support we need to succeed."

"All I ever wanted was a fair shake from the USDA so I could support my family and pursue my love for farming," added June Provost. "But it's clear they don't see me and other Black farmers as regular folks; we're just 'those people' to them. Until every farmer gets the support they're due, none of us will truly thrive."

The complaint alleges that the ordeal experienced by the Provosts is not an isolatd incident; instead, it symbolizes a broader trend familiar to Black farmers across both the Southern region and the entirety of the U.S. Consequently, the number of Black farmers continues to dwindle. In 1910, about 14 percent of U.S. farmers were Black, owning more than 16 million acres. According to the latest available Census of Agriculture data, only one in 100 farmers is Black, owning a total of less than 5 million acres.



Ariel Anaba, who has long represented the Provosts and has primary responsibility for handling the case, expressed, "A year and a half ago, I chose to join Wilson Sonsini, drawn in part by its reputation as a pro bono champion of social justice causes, advocating for underprivileged and marginalized communities. I am grateful for the opportunity to assist the Provosts in seeking to right wrongs and safeguarding their land and livelihoods. For over a century, Black and Brown farmers have been denied equal treatment under the law. The significance of this case extends beyond the Provost family, since it will protect the ancestral legacy of Black and Brown farmers across the country."

Luke Liss, Wilson Sonsini's Pro Bono Partner, remarked, "The farmers that provide for this great country have long depended on subsidies and loans from the federal government to obtain essential resources such as land, equipment, seeds, and livestock, as well as to cover general living expenses. However, the allocation of these resources has not been fair. Wilson Sonsini is proud to walk shoulder-to-shoulder with the Provosts on their journey for equitable treatment for all, as part of living our values of furthering access to justice and service to the underserved via our pro bono work and Community Impact Program."


Wilson Sonsini has assumed the representation in this matter on a pro bono basis. The firm has long engaged in successful large-scale pro bono litigation, encompassing a diverse range of cases. This includes prevailing alongside co-counsel in trial and subsequent appeals against the federal government on behalf of one of the largest classes of Medicare beneficiaries in history, to successfully advocating for Colombians impacted by paramilitary violence under the Torture Victim and Protection Act, in addition to various other recent and ongoing matters across the U.S.

The case is Provost v. Vilsack, case number 1:24-cv-00920.

About Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati

For more than 60 years, Wilson Sonsini's services and legal disciplines have focused on serving the principal challenges faced by the management and boards of directors of business enterprises. The firm is nationally recognized as a leading provider to growing and established clients seeking legal counsel to complete sophisticated corporate and technology transactions; manage governance and enterprise-scale matters; assist with intellectual property development, protection, and IP-driven transactions; represent them in contested disputes; and/or advise them on antitrust or other regulatory matters. Wilson Sonsini also has a premier Community Impact program, focused on access to justice and serving the underrepresented via pro bono and community service work. With deep roots in Silicon Valley, Wilson Sonsini has more than 1,000 attorneys and 19 offices in 17 technology, business, and regulatory markets across the United States, China, and Europe. For more information, please visit www.wsgr.com.


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