Mississippi Farms Settle Case Claiming Migrants Were Paid More

Two catfish farms in Mississippi have come to settlement agreements in lawsuits that alleged they imported workers from Mexico and then paid them much more than they paid local farmworkers who were Black, even though they performed similar labor.

On Tuesday, the attorneys for the plaintiffs announced the settlement agreement.

The Mississippi Center for Justice and Southern Migrant Legal Services filed a lawsuit against Jerry Nobile, his son Will and the pair’s farms back in August on behalf of 14 farmworkers who are Black.

In the federal lawsuit, they claimed that the Black workers were “systematically underpaid and denied job opportunities for years in favor of non-Black foreign workers” at the Nobile Fish Farms. The farm also grows soybeans and corn.

According to the attorneys, the lawsuit ended on “mutually agreeable terms,” though the details of the settlement are confidential.

According to records on file with the court, the lawsuit was settled back in February.

Rob McDuff, an attorney who works for the Mississippi Center for Justice, spoke to The Associated Press, telling them the settlement was just announced this week because “all the terms of the settlement have been fulfilled.”

As he said in a statement that was released on Wednesday:

“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.”

The region he was referring to is the Mississippi Delta, which is one of the poorest regions in all of America. This recent settlement marks the eighth such deal that was negotiated on behalf of Black farmworkers who have claimed they were looked over for jobs after immigrants were ultimately hired at local farms and then paid more.

Five of those settlements were negotiated without any lawsuit being officially filed, the two organizations said.

Back in December of 2022, two different farms settled suits that claimed they hired white workers who came from South Africa, paying them more than they did Black workers for work that was similar.

Three of the lawsuits were filed against farms that are located in Sunflower County, which sits roughly 100 miles northwest of the city of Jackson. The population of the county is only about 24,500, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and 74% of those residents are Black.

One of the attorneys in the case filed against Nobile Fish Farms, Hannah Wolf of Southern Migrant Legal Services, said there’s an H-2A guest worker program in place that requires all employers to attempt to hire workers who are local before they bring in immigrants from abroad.

However, she added:

“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.”

The AP reached out to the legal representation for Nobile Fish Farms for a comment on Tuesday, but that person was not in town and didn’t respond to a message left for them.