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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

22 AGs and FTC Commissioner Chopra oppose HUD’s disparate impact proposal

Federal Issues Agency Rule-Making & Guidance HUD Fair Housing Act Disparate Impact Fair Lending FTC State Attorney General

Federal Issues

On October 18, 22 state attorneys general submitted comments opposing HUD’s proposed rule amending the agency’s interpretation of the Fair Housing Act’s disparate impact standard (also known as the “2013 Disparate Impact Regulation”), arguing the proposal would “render disparate impact liability a dead letter under the Fair Housing Act (FHA).” As previously covered by InfoBytes, in August, HUD issued the proposed rule, to bring the rule “into closer alignment with the analysis and guidance” provided in the 2015 Supreme Court ruling in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. (covered by a Buckley Special Alert) and to codify HUD’s position that its rule is not intended to infringe on the states’ regulation of insurance. Specifically, the proposal codifies the burden-shifting framework outlined in Inclusive Communities, adding five elements that a plaintiff must plead to support allegations that a specific, identifiable, policy or practice has a discriminatory effect. Moreover, the proposal provides methods for defendants to rebut a disparate impact claim.

In the comment letter, the attorneys general argue that the proposal ignores “the Supreme Court’s binding interpretation of the FHA” in Inclusive Communities, stating that the Court “emphasiz[ed] the continued importance of the FHA’s disparate impact theory of liability in advancing the nation’s efforts to advance justice and equality.” Additionally, the attorneys general suggest that the proposal ignores HUD’s statutory mandate and is “arbitrary and capricious in light of its numerous substantive defects.” The attorneys general assert that no changes to the rule are necessary, as there are no revisions “that would add clarity, reduce uncertainty, decrease unwarranted regulatory burdens, or otherwise assist in determining lawful conduct.” The letter concludes with a threat of a “meritorious legal challenge” should HUD approve the changes.

Similarly, on October 16, FTC Commissioner, Rohit Chopra, voiced his concerns with the proposal in a comment letter, stating that it “appears to fundamentally misunderstand how algorithms, big data, and machine learning work in practice,” and that “it would provide safe harbors to the same technologies at issue in HUD’s own action against [a social media company].” Chopra opposes HUD’s proposal for three reasons: (i) algorithms can provide discriminatory results because they are not neutral; (ii) safe harbors should not be created “around technologies that are proprietary, opaque, and rapidly evolving”; and (iii) incentives are distorted by “outsourcing [the] liability for algorithmic discrimination to third parties.” Chopra concludes that the proposal should not be finalized because it “moves enforcement against discrimination backwards.”