2 Mississippi catfish farms settle suit alleging immigrants were paid more than local Black workers

Apr 2, 2024, 10:22 AM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Two Mississippi catfish farms have settled a lawsuit alleging that they brought workers from Mexico to the U.S. and paid them significantly more than they previously paid local Black farmworkers for the same type of labor, plaintiffs’ attorneys said Tuesday.

Southern Migrant Legal Services and Mississippi Center for Justice sued Jerry Nobile, his son Will Nobile and their farms in August on behalf of 14 Black farmworkers. The federal lawsuit said the Black workers were “systematically underpaid and denied job opportunities for years in favor of non-Black foreign workers” at Nobile Fish Farms, which also raise corn and soybeans.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys said the lawsuit concluded on “mutually agreeable terms” under a confidential settlement.

Court records show the lawsuit against Nobile Fish Farms was settled in February. Mississippi Center for Justice attorney Rob McDuff told The Associated Press that the settlement was announced Tuesday because “all the terms of the settlement have been fulfilled.”

“We hope our legal efforts will make clear to farmers in the Delta, and across the U.S., that they need to pay fair wages to local workers,” McDuff said in a statement Wednesday.

An attorney for Nobile Fish Farms was out of town Tuesday and did not immediately respond to a phone message from the AP.

It was the eighth settlement on behalf of Black farmworkers who said they were pushed aside after higher-paid immigrants were hired at farms in the Mississippi Delta, one of the poorest parts of the United States. Five of the settlements were reached without lawsuits being filed, according to Southern Migrant Legal Services and Mississippi Center for Justice.

In December 2022, two farms settled lawsuits over claims that they hired white laborers from South Africa and paid them more than the local Black employees for the same type of work.

All three of the lawsuits were against farms in Sunflower County, which is about 100 miles (160 kilometers) northwest of Jackson. The county’s population is just under 24,500, and about 74% of residents are Black, according to the Census Bureau.

Hannah Wolf, a Southern Migrant Legal Services attorney in the case against Nobile Fish Farms, said the H-2A guest worker program requires employers to try hire local workers before bringing immigrant workers, “but we continue to hear from U.S. workers who report being pushed out of their jobs and replaced with guest workers.”

“We will continue to investigate those claims and bring legal action when warranted,” Wolf said.

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2 Mississippi catfish farms settle suit alleging immigrants were paid more than local Black workers