VIRGINIA– A settlement has been reached in a discrimination lawsuit against agro-chemical company Monsanto, owned by Bayer Corporation, in which plaintiff Elvira Reyes-Hernandez, a farmworker, alleged that the company refused to finalize a settlement agreement in a personal injury case relating to her exposure to the herbicide Roundup because she was not a U.S. citizen. The lawsuit alleged that Monsanto’s refusal to enter into a settlement agreement with Ms. Reyes-Hernandez in her Roundup case violated section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, a law that prohibits discrimination in the making and enforcement of contracts.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Public Citizen Litigation Group, Legal Aid Justice Center, and private counsel Miner, Barnhill & Galland PC, Dugan Schlozman LLC and Collins Law Firm PC represent Elvira Reyes-Hernandez, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma after exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller while working on tree farms in Virginia.
“This lawsuit was brought to ensure that the principles of justice and equal rights under the law meet the letter of the law,” said Jon Greenbaum, Chief Counsel at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The plaintiff sought to ensure Monsanto’s compliance with the core intent of Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which advocates for equal contractual rights without discrimination—regardless of citizenship status.”
As part of the settlement, Monsanto has agreed to neither seek nor accept any provision in future Roundup settlement agreements that permits immigration status or citizenship to be a factor in assessing any claimant’s eligibility to participate in any settlement, or in determining the amount awarded.
Section 1981, the nation’s first civil rights law, was adopted during the period of Reconstruction following the Civil War and the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery. Section 1981 was explicitly designed to further the aims of the Thirteenth Amendment by creating a remedy for discrimination against newly emancipated African Americans that hampered their ability to enter into contracts and fully participate in the nation’s economy.
“Farmworkers labor under the most dangerous and worst working conditions because they have fewer rights than other workers. This is no coincidence but rather a shameful legacy of slavery – farmworkers perform the work that was forced upon enslaved people. Fieldworkers as a group are exposed to Roundup at a high rate and yet are much less likely to have insurance to pay for their medical bills if they get sick and usually don’t have access to an attorney to pursue a settlement. This agreement is a significant benefit that will insure that non-citizens can participate in future Roundup settlements,” added Katy Youker, director of the Economic Justice Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
This case sends a clear message to farmworkers, many of whom have been and continue to be exposed to Roundup, that they too can come forward to seek relief for their injuries, regardless of their citizenship or immigration status.
About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to mobilize the nation’s leading lawyers as agents for change in the Civil Rights Movement. Today, the Lawyers’ Committee uses legal advocacy to achieve racial justice, fighting inside and outside the courts to ensure that Black people and other people of color have the voice, opportunity, and power to make the promises of our democracy real. For more information, please visit https://lawyerscommittee.org.