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Lawsuit Alleges Monsanto/Bayer Violated Civil Rights Statute

VIRGINIA – Public Citizen 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 Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Legal Aid Justice Center, The Collins Law Firm, Miner, Barnhill & Galland, and Dugan Schlozman LLC, Public Citizen 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 for Roundup’s 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:

  • Order the defendants to identify all individuals who have been excluded from settlements due to their citizenship status;
  • 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;
  • Award the plaintiff both punitive and emotional distress damages; and
  • Enter an injunction prohibiting the defendants from continuing to discriminate on the basis of alienage.

“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.”

“This case cuts to the core of our nation’s justice system and invokes a fundamental civil rights statute,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee. “Every person in this country, regardless of race or alienage, must be afforded equal protection under the law – whether that is in court or in the making and enforcement of contract agreements.”