For a financial services company, lying about past involvement with slavery from customers could possibly be equivalent to a shoe manufacturer lying to customers about use of Third World sweatshops.
A panel consisting of 3 judges from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has offered that suggestion in a ruling on In Re: African-American Slave Descendants Litigation.
One of the defendants in the litigation is Aetna Inc., Hartford. The plaintiffs say Aetna profited from selling life insurance that protected slave owners against the deaths of slaves back in the 1850s.
In 2005, a judge at the U.S. District Court in Chicago dismissed the 10 cases involved in the litigation. The plaintiffs involved in those cases, including Deadria Farmer-Paellmann, appealed.
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The district judge ruled that the applicable statutes of limitations have passed, the complaints fail to state a claim, and the federal courts had no jurisdiction over the cases.
The 7th Circuit panel says the district judge was correct to dismiss claims seeking to punish the defendants for their involvement with the slave economy in the 1800s.
Some of the states allege that the defendants were violating Northern state laws in effect even at that time, but “it is highly unlikely that antebellum laws in northern states were intended to confer financial or other benefits on the 21st century descendants of slaves,” Circuit Judge Richard Posner writes in an opinion for the 7th Circuit panel.