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

JACKSON, ma’am. — Two catfish farms in Mississippi have settled a lawsuit alleging they brought workers from Mexico to the U.S. and paid them significantly more than they previously paid local black farm workers for the same type of labor, the plaintiffs’ attorneys said Tuesday.

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

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

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

“We hope our legal efforts will make it clear to farmers in the Delta and across the U.S. that they must 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 telephone message from the AP.

It was the eighth settlement on behalf of black farmworkers who say they were pushed aside after better-paid immigrants were hired on farms in the Mississippi Delta, one of the poorest parts of the United States. According to Southern Migrant Legal Services and the Mississippi Center for Justice, five of the settlements were reached without any lawsuits being filed.

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

All three lawsuits targeted farms in Sunflower County, about 100 miles northwest of Jackson. According to the Census Bureau, the county has a population of just under 24,500 and about 74% of residents are black.

Hannah Wolf, an attorney for Southern Migrant Legal Services in the case against Nobile Fish Farms, said the H-2A guest worker program requires employers to try to hire local workers before bringing in immigrant workers, “but we continue to hear from American workers who report being pressured will lose their jobs and be replaced by guest workers.”

“We will continue to investigate these claims and take legal action as warranted,” Wolf said.