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Authority of USDA to Award Monetary Relief for Discrimination

Date of Issuance:

The Department of Agriculture has authority to award monetary relief, attorneys’ fees, and costs to a person who has been discriminated against in a program conducted by USDA if a court could award such relief in an action by the aggrieved person. That question is controlled by whether the anti-discrimination provisions of the applicable civil rights statute apply to federal agencies, and if so, whether the statute waives the sovereign immunity of the United States against imposition of such relief.

The anti-discrimination provisions of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 do not apply to federal agencies. Some anti-discrimination provisions in each of the other civil rights statutes addressed in the opinion do apply to federal agencies, but only one of the statutes, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, waives sovereign immunity with respect to monetary relief, authorizing imposition of compensatory damages. The Fair Housing Act and the Rehabilitation Act do not waive immunity against monetary relief. Attorneys’ fees and costs may be awarded pursuant to the waiver of immunity contained in the Equal Access to Justice Act.

Updated July 9, 2014