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On September 5, a coalition of 14 state Attorneys General sent a comment letter to the CFPB raising concerns about statements made by acting Director Mick Mulvaney in May suggesting that the Bureau may reexamine its requirements and enforcement of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA). The letter notes that Mulvaney’s comments followed the Bureau’s repeal of the agency’s 2013 guidance on indirect auto lending and compliance with ECOA last May. (See previous InfoBytes coverage on resolution S.J. Res. 57 disapproving the guidance here.) The Attorneys General point out that the resolution did not eliminate regulations promulgated in 1977 and adopted by the Bureau in 2011 that interpret “ECOA to provide for disparate impact liability without limitation to the type of lending.” The Attorneys General express concern over the Bureau’s possible break with “the federal government’s longstanding interpretation that ECOA provides for disparate impact liability” both because states share ECOA enforcement authority with the Bureau and because many states model their antidiscrimination statutes on ECOA.
The comment letter asserts that dropping disparate impact from ECOA reviews would be inconsistent with the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. (as covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert). The Attorneys General cite to the Supreme Court’s holding that disparate impact liability was provided for under a provision of the Federal Housing Act, and assert that the holding “dictates that the text of ECOA unambiguously provides for disparate impact liability.” Because, they claim, the “CFPB has no authority to overrule the Supreme Court's interpretation of unambiguous text, any action to reinterpret ECOA not to provide for disparate impact liability could be set aside by a court as arbitrary, capricious, and otherwise not in accordance with law.”
As previously covered in InfoBytes, last month 17 state Attorneys General sent a comment letter to HUD urging the agency to not make any changes to its 2013 Disparate Impact Regulation, which implements the Fair Housing Act’s disparate impact standard, as well as the 2016 Application of the Fair Housing Act’s Discriminatory Effects Standard to Insurance.
8th Circuit: Bank that discharged employees as a “business necessity” did not violate Section 19 of the FDI Act
On August 29, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit affirmed a lower court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of a national bank, holding that the bank did not violate the Federal Deposit Insurance Act’s Section 19 employment ban when it discharged African-American and Latino employees who previously had been convicted of crimes involving dishonesty. Under Section 19, individuals who have been convicted of a crime “involving dishonesty or a breach of trust” cannot be employed by a financial institution covered by federal deposit insurance. A bank that violates the ban is subject to criminal penalties, although an individual may request a waiver from the FDIC. According to the order, the bank screened all home mortgage division employees in 2012 and discharged anyone who was found to have a conviction without providing the option to apply for a waiver. The class members—who brought discrimination claims based on a disparate impact theory—complained that the bank’s automatic discharge of all affected employees impacted African Americans and Latinos at a higher rate than white employees, and contended that the bank could have prevented this result with an alternative such as giving employees “advance notice of the need for a Section 19 discharge, granting leave time to seek a waiver, and/or sponsoring a waiver.” The appellate court relied on data showing that approximately half of waiver applications are approved by the FDIC, and class members presented no data to show that sponsored waivers would ameliorate any racial disparity. In addition, the appellate court held that the bank’s decision to comply with the statute was a business necessity in light of the possibility of a $1 million-per-day fine “even if [the bank’s] policy of summarily terminating or not hiring any Section 19 disqualified individual creates a disparate impact.” Moreover, the appellate court stated that the class members “failed to establish a prima facie case of disparate impact,” and did not present a less discriminatory alternative that would serve the bank’s interests in compliance with the statute.
On August 20, 17 state Attorneys General in a comment letter urged HUD to not make any changes to its 2013 Disparate Impact Regulation (regulation), which implements the Fair Housing Act’s disparate impact standard, as well as the 2016 Application of the Fair Housing Act’s Discriminatory Effects Standard to Insurance (supplement). The comment letter responded to HUD’s June advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR), which sought comments on whether the 2013 regulation and the 2016 supplement are consistent with the 2015 Supreme Court ruling in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. (Covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert.)
In the letter, the Attorneys General state that the regulation “strikes the proper balance between promoting an integrated society and protecting housing providers from unmeritorious discrimination claims” and is “entirely consistent” with the Supreme Court decision. The letter cites to multiple federal and state court decisions, which have held that the regulation is “‘adopted’ by, or consistent with, the Supreme Court decision” and emphasizes that, to their awareness, no court has held the regulation to be inconsistent. Conversely, even if the Supreme Court decision left room for revisions to the regulation, the letter notes that the issues of segregation and discrimination in the housing and lending market have not dissipated in the five years since the regulation was finalized and therefore, no revisions are warranted. Lastly, among other points, the Attorneys General conclude that any revisions would “reduce clarity and add uncertainty because any revision would likely fail to rely on the half century of disparate impact case law.”
The letter was led by North Carolina Attorney General, Josh Stein. The other state Attorneys General included California, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington as well as the District of Columbia.
On June 29, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida granted a national bank’s Motion for Summary Judgment against the City of Miami Gardens (City) on the City’s claims that the bank allegedly made loans to minority borrowers that were more expensive than those given to non-minority borrowers, resulting in greater rates of default and foreclosure, which led to reduced property values in the City and decreased the City’s property tax revenue. (See previous Buckley Sandler Special Alert on a 2017 Supreme Court ruling addressing whether cities have standing to bring discriminatory lending claims under the FHA to recover lost tax revenue and upkeep costs). The court, siding with the bank, found the City had failed to present sufficient evidence to support a claim of discriminatory lending. According to the order, the parties agreed that the bank had not made any predatory loans during the limitations period. Because the City only identified two types of loans from a total of 153 loans issued by the bank during the limitations period as having been made at a higher cost to minorities, the record was insufficient to show the bank’s policies produced “statistically imbalanced lending patterns” and failed to support a claim for disparate impact. The judge further determined that the bank established that there were “legitimate nondiscriminatory reasons that motivated the different pricing,” and that “the City ultimately cannot carry its burden to show by a preponderance of the evidence that [the bank’s] reasons for the price differentials were a mere pretext for discrimination.” On these bases, the court granted the motion.
On June 20, HUD published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) in the Federal Register seeking comment on potential amendments to its the 2013 Disparate Impact Regulation, which implements the Fair Housing Act’s disparate impact standard, as well as the 2016 Application of the Fair Housing Act’s Discriminatory Effects Standard to Insurance (supplement). The notice requests comments on whether the 2013 regulation and the 2016 supplement are consistent with the 2015 Supreme Court ruling in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. (Covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert.) While HUD is seeking feedback on any potential changes to the regulation, the agency is particularly interested in, among other things, (i) whether the burden-shifting framework appropriately assigns burdens of production and persuasion; and (ii) whether the regulation should provide defenses or safe harbors to claims of liability. Comments on the notice are due by August 20.
On May 10, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced its intention to seek public comment on whether the 2013 Disparate Impact Regulation (Regulation), which provides a framework for establishing legal liability for facially neutral practices that have a discriminatory effect under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), is consistent with the 2015 Supreme Court ruling in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. (Covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert.) The Supreme Court upheld the use of a disparate impact theory to establish liability under the Fair Housing Act, but according to HUD’s announcement, the Court only referenced the Regulation in its ruling but did not directly rule upon it.
As previously covered by InfoBytes, in October 2017, the Treasury Department called on HUD to reconsider the Regulation as it relates to the insurance industry – specifically, to homeowner’s insurance.
On January 16, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania denied a national bank’s motion to dismiss the City of Philadelphia’s (City) claims that the bank engaged in alleged discriminatory lending practices in violation of the Fair Housing Act (FHA). As previously covered in InfoBytes, the City filed a complaint in May of last year against the bank alleging discrimination under both the disparate treatment and disparate impact theories. The City asserted that the bank’s practice of offering better terms to similarly-situated, non-minority borrowers or refusing to make loans in minority neighborhoods has led to foreclosures and vacant homes, which in turn, has resulted in a suppression of property tax revenue and increased cost of providing services such as police, fire fighting, and other municipal services. In support of its motion to dismiss, the bank argued, among other things, that the City’s claim (i) is time barred; (ii) improperly alleges the disparate impact theory; and (iii) fails to allege proximate cause as required by a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling (see previous Special Alert here).
While the court expressed “serious concerns about the viability of the economic injury aspect of the City’s claim with regard to proximate cause,” the court found that the bank “has not met its burden to show why the City’s entire FHA claim should be dismissed.” Consequently, the court held that the case may proceed to discovery beyond the two-year statute of limitations period for FHA violations in order to provide the City an opportunity to prove whether the bank’s policy caused a racial disparity that constituted a violation continuing into the limitations period.
Third Treasury Report Calls on HUD to Reconsider Application of Disparate Impact Rule to the Insurance Industry
On October 26, the U.S. Treasury Department published a report outlining a number of recommendations for ways to manage systemic risk primarily within the asset management and insurance industry. A section of the report, however, also discusses HUD’s potential application of the disparate impact rule to the insurance industry—specifically related to homeowner’s insurance. The report, “A Financial System That Creates Economic Opportunities—Asset Management and Insurance,” is the third in a series of four the Treasury plans to issue in response to President Trump’s Executive Order 13772 (EO), which mandated a review of financial regulations for inconsistencies with promoted “Core Principles.” (See Buckley Sandler Special Alert on the EO here and InfoBytes coverage on the first two reports here.)
HUD is authorized to adjudicate housing discrimination claims and issue rules relating to the Fair Housing Act. According to the report, Treasury recommends that HUD reconsider the use of the disparate impact theory to the insurance industry. The report notes a number of problems and challenges that would arise from applying disparate impact to the insurance industry. In particular, the report identifies potential challenges because (i) “state insurance regulations ordinarily prohibit the consideration of protected characteristics in the evaluation and pooling of risk” and at least one state expressly prohibits the collection of this data; (ii) the rule could impose unnecessary burdens on insurers and lead to actions that are not actuarially sound in an effort to avoid underwriting practices that may result in disparate outcomes; and (iii) it may be inconsistent with the McCarran-Ferguson Act and other existing state laws.
The report also recommends, among other things, that Congress clarify the “business of insurance” exception that generally excludes these services from the CFPB’s jurisdiction. The report recommends clarification to this exception to eliminate uncertainty about the CFPB’s jurisdiction and the potential overlap between the Bureau and state insurance regulators. A fact sheet accompanying the report further highlights Treasury’s recommendations to evaluate systemic risk, streamline regulations, rationalize international engagement, and promote economic growth.
ABA, State Bankers Associations Respond to HUD’s Request for Comment; Discuss Need to Clarify Disparate Impact
On May 15, HUD issued a request for comment on its review of regulations as required by Executive Order 13777, which compels each agency to review and carry out regulatory reform. According to the request for comment, the self-assessment will address suggestions for “specific current regulations that may be outdated, ineffective, or excessively burdensome, and therefore, warranting repeal, replacement, or modification.” The request, which closed for public comment on June 14, received 100 comments from state bankers associations, financial institutions, and individuals.
American Bankers Association (ABA) and State Bankers Associations. On June 14, a joint comment letter was sent on behalf of the ABA and state bankers associations representing all 50 states. A key issue raised by the letter was that HUD adopted an incorrect and improper standard for disparate impact liability in its rule implementing the Fair Housing Act’s discriminatory effects standard—a rule the groups calls “outdated and legally wrong.” Under the terms of the rule, HUD provided that “[l]iability may be established under the Fair Housing Act based on a practice’s discriminatory effect . . . even if the practice was not motivated by a discriminatory intent” and then articulated a burden shifting framework for such claims in which a plaintiff can establish a prima facie case using statistics alone. However, the groups claim that the burden shifting framework conflicts with a Supreme Court decision in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, and assert that “a case premised on statistics alone is a prime example of an abuse of disparate impact.” The groups further wonder if HUD will “maintain the supervisory view that statistics alone can establish a prima facie case, as stated in the [r]ule[.]” It is the opinion of the groups that the Supreme Court enforced strict limitations of the use of disparate impact—“in stark contrast to the Rule’s approach”—in order to “avoid injecting the consideration of race into decision making and . . . address important constitutional concerns.” Thus, “[a] rule that creates, rather than eliminates, confusion undermines its own purpose and is entirely ineffective.” Furthermore, the letter (i) indicates that the groups are willing to engage in discussions with HUD on the topic of disparate impact, and (ii) raises the issue of whether a revised rule or a reopening of comments on the existing rule are in order.
In The Inclusive Cmtys. Project, Inc. v. The Tex. Dep’t of Hous. and Cmty., No. 3:08-cv-00546-D (N.D. Tex. Aug. 26, 2016), on remand from the Supreme Court and the Fifth Circuit, the district court dismissed claims of disparate impact under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) where the plaintiff alleged that the defendant allocated two different types of tax credits in a manner that perpetuated racial segregation. The district court applied the Supreme Court’s previously explained three-part burden-shifting framework to analyze the plaintiff’s claim, and determined that, among other things, the plaintiff’s claim failed to show a “specific, facially neutral policy” causing a racially disparate impact. The court reasoned that “[b]y relying simply on [the defendant’s] exercise of discretion in awarding tax credits, [the plaintiff] has not isolated and identified the specific practice that caused the disparity in the location of low-income housing…. [The plaintiff] cannot rely on this generalized policy of discretion to prove disparate impact.” The district court further reasoned that because the plaintiff had not “sufficiently identified a specific, facially-neutral policy that has caused a statistically disparity,” the court could not “fashion a remedy that removes that policy.” The district court concluded that the plaintiff “failed to prove a prima facie case of discrimination by showing that a challenged practice caused a discriminatory effect” and entered judgment in favor of the defendants.
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