International & Human Rights

Braceros Workers Class Action


Issue: International Litigation
Result: Settlement

Working with co-counsel, Lieff Cabraser succeeded in correcting an injustice that dated back 60 years. The case was brought on behalf of Mexican workers and laborers, known as Braceros (“strong arms”), who came from Mexico to the United States pursuant to bilateral agreements from 1942 through 1946 to aid American farms and industries hurt by employee shortages during World War II in the agricultural, railroad, and other industries.

As part of the Braceros program, employers held back 10% of the workers’ wages, which were to be transferred via United States and Mexican banks to savings accounts for each Bracero. The Braceros were never reimbursed for the portion of their wages placed in the forced savings accounts.

Despite significant obstacles including the aging and passing away of many Braceros, statutes of limitation hurdles, and strong defenses to claims under contract and international law, plaintiffs prevailed in a settlement in February 2009. Under the settlement, the Mexican government provided a payment to Braceros, or their surviving spouses or children, in the amount of approximately $3,500 (USD).

In approving the settlement on February 23, 2009, U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer stated:

I’ve never seen such litigation in eleven years on the bench that was more difficult than this one. It was enormously challenging…. It had all sorts of issues … that complicated it: foreign law, constitutional law, contract law, [and] statute of limitations…. Notwithstanding all of these issues that kept surfacing … over the years, the plaintiffs persisted. I actually expected, to tell you the truth, at some point that the plaintiffs would just give up because it was so hard, but they never did. They never did. And, in fact, they achieved a settlement of the case, which I find remarkable under all of these circumstances.

Holocaust Era Bank and Insurance Companies Class Action Lawsuit

Silhouetted barbed wire on white background

Issue: International Litigation
Result: $1.25 billion settlement

Lieff Cabraser was one of the leading firms that prosecuted claims by Holocaust survivors and the heirs of Holocaust survivors and victims against banks, private manufacturers and other corporations who enslaved and/or looted the assets of Jews and other minority groups persecuted by the Nazi Regime during the Second World War era. We served as Settlement Class Counsel in the case against the Swiss banks in which the Court approved a U.S. $1.25 billion settlement in July 2000.

Lieff Cabraser donated its attorneys’ fees in the Swiss Banks case, in the amount of $1.5 million, to endow a Human Rights clinical chair at Columbia University Law School. We were also active in slave labor and property litigation against German and Austrian defendants, and Nazi-era banking litigation against French banks. In connection therewith, Lieff Cabraser participated in multi-national negotiations that led to Executive Agreements establishing an additional approximately U.S. $5 billion in funds for survivors and victims of Nazi persecution.

Commenting on the work of Lieff Cabraser and co-counsel in the litigation against private German corporations, entitled In re Holocaust Era German Industry, Bank & Insurance Litigation (MDL No. 1337), U.S. District Court Judge William G. Bassler stated on November 13, 2002:

Up until this litigation, as far as I can tell, perhaps with some minor exceptions, the claims of slave and forced labor fell on deaf ears. You can say what you want to say about class actions and about attorneys, but the fact of the matter is, there was no attention to this very, very large group of people by Germany, or by German industry until these cases were filed…. What has been accomplished here with the efforts of the plaintiffs’ attorneys and defense counsel is quite incredible… I want to thank counsel for the assistance in bringing us to where we are today. Cases don’t get settled just by litigants. It can only be settled by competent, patient attorneys.