Lawyers’ Committee Files Lawsuit Against Bayer/Monsanto For Violating Civil Rights Statute

lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia against agrochemical corporation Monsanto

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VIRGINIA– The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, with non-profit and pro bono co-counsel, today filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia against agrochemical corporation Monsanto – owned by the company Bayer since 2018 – for violating federal civil rights law.

Co-counseling with Legal Aid Justice Center, Public Citizen Litigation Group, The Collins Law Firm, P.C., Miner, Barnhill & Galland, P.C., and Dugan Schlozman LLC, the Lawyers’ Committee represents Elvira Reyes-Hernandez, a non-U.S.-citizen plaintiff who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2019 after exposure to Monsanto product Roundup while working on tree farms in Virginia. 

After filing suit against Monsanto claiming that Roundup had a role in causing her cancer, Ms. Reyes- Hernandez agreed to enter into a settlement agreement with Monsanto in exchange for dropping her suit. Monsanto then refused to finalize the agreement because the plaintiff is not a U.S. citizen.

Today’s filing alleges that this refusal violated Section 1981 of the U.S. Code Title 42, one of the country’s oldest civil rights laws. The lawsuit also names as defendants her former attorneys, who dropped her case when it did not settle, telling her that U.S. citizenship was required for settlement. 

More than 100,000 lawsuits have been filed against Monsanto by persons exposed to Roundup, and Monsanto has established a settlement program to resolve some of these claims. Given that more than 70% of agricultural crop farmworkers are not U.S. citizens, the Lawyers’ Committee and its co-counsel believe the plaintiff could be one of many people illegally denied their right to pursue a settlement related to Roundup exposure. 

The suit filed today asks the court to:

(1) Order the defendants to identify all individuals who have been excluded from settlements due to their citizenship status. 
(2) Order the defendants to provide monetary damages to the plaintiff in the amount she would have received had she not been excluded from the settlement. 
(3) Award the plaintiff both punitive and emotional distress damages. 
(4) Enter an injunction prohibiting the defendants from continuing to discriminate on the basis of alienage.

“This case cuts to the core of our nation’s justice system and invokes fundamental civil rights principles of inclusion and fairness,” said Damon Hewitt, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee. “Every person in this country, regardless of race or citizenship status, must be afforded equal protection under the law – whether that is in court or in the making and enforcement of contracts and agreements. Ms. Reyes-Hernandez was denied those rights in direct violation of the law. After enduring significant suffering due to Monsanto’s product, she was denied the opportunity to settle her case and get sorely-needed relief, adding legal insult to horrific injury. We believe this case is just the tip of the iceberg, and there are others who were similarly harmed. It is often those who work the hardest to support our country and–in this case, those working to put food on our tables–who face the greatest barriers to justice and equity. We must ensure that what happened to our client does not happen again, and that those who sought to deny her relief are held accountable.”

“Elvira got cancer working in American fields, after years of exposure to a chemical made and sold in America, by an American company, Monsanto,” said environmental law attorney Shawn Collins. “So Elvira is protected by American laws—giving her the same right to hold Monsanto accountable in an American court of law, and to settle with Monsanto, that was exercised by thousands of others who also filed cancer suits against the company. This right cannot be taken from her because she is not a citizen. The laws protecting Elvira have been in place for more than 150 years, first enacted as a response to the scourge of slavery, to forbid discrimination against all human beings in this country, not just those who happen to be citizens.” 

“Those harmed by unlawful conduct are entitled to compensation no matter their immigration status,” said Michael Kirkpatrick, an attorney with Public Citizen Litigation Group. “This lawsuit calls out discrimination by both Monsanto and some trial lawyers, and will help put an end to such practices.” 

“We’re honored to represent Ms. Reyes-Hernandez in this important matter to protect the rights of all workers,” said Benjamin Blustein of Miner, Barnhill & Galland, P.C. in Chicago.

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 visithttps://lawyerscommittee.org

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