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HUD proposes burden-shifting framework for Disparate Impact Regulation
On August 16, HUD announced a proposed rule amending the agency’s interpretation of the Fair Housing Act’s disparate impact standard (also known as the “2013 Disparate Impact Regulation”) 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.
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. The five elements would require a plaintiff to adequately allege (i) the challenged policy or practice is “arbitrary, artificial, and unnecessary” to achieve a valid interest or legitimate objective; (ii) a “robust causal link” between the challenged policy or practice and a disparate impact on members of a protected class; (iii) the challenged policy or practice has an adverse effect on members of a protected class; (iv) the disparity caused by the policy or practice is significant (the disparity must be material); and (v) the complaining party’s alleged injury is directly caused by the challenged policy or practice. HUD emphasizes that plaintiffs alleging a single event, “will likely not meet the standard” of the proposal unless “the plaintiff can establish that the one-time decision is in fact a policy or practice.”
The proposed rule also provides methods for defendants to rebut a disparate impact claim, including (i) showing its discretion is materially limited by a third party, such as through a controlling law or binding court order; and (ii) showing the algorithmic model relied on does not use inputs that are substitutes for protected characteristics and is predictive of risk or other valid objective, was created or maintained by a recognized third party, or that a neutral third party has analyzed the model and determined it is a demonstrably and statistically sound algorithm.
The proposal, which has yet to be released by HUD, is reportedly under review by Congress and is set to be published in the Federal Register afterward. Comments will be due 60 days after publication.
Housing discrimination lawsuit against national bank can proceed
On July 18, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland denied defendants’ motion to dismiss claims that they violated the Fair Housing Act’s anti-discrimination provisions by allegedly failing to properly maintain bank-owned properties in African American and Latino neighborhoods. According to the plaintiffs—a group of private fair housing organizations along with three individual homeowners—the bank and its maintenance contractor regularly maintained similar bank-owned properties in white neighborhoods, while properties in minority neighborhoods were allowed to fall into disrepair. The plaintiffs cited claims for discrimination under both disparate treatment and disparate impact theories, and asserted that the conduct allegedly depreciated the property values of current residents, discouraged buyers from purchasing homes in a particular neighborhood, and limited available housing. The defendants argued, however, that the fair housing organizations do not have standing to sue because they failed to trace their alleged injury to the conduct at issue or to sufficiently demonstrate they were harmed by the alleged conduct. Moreover, the defendants asserted that the Maryland court does not have jurisdiction over the dispute and that the claims were untimely.
The court found that the plaintiffs did sufficiently plead an injury-in-fact, stating, “[h]ere the scope and specificity of the plaintiffs’ investigation and the alleged precision with which its proffered regression analysis can attribute the plaintiffs’ injuries to the defendants’ actions, provide plausible proximate cause.” The court also reasoned that it had jurisdictional authority because, even though none of the fair housing organizations are Maryland entities, some of the alleged conduct has occurred in Maryland and state residents have alleged harm. As to the question of timeliness, the court noted that the statute of limitations concerns are “obviated by the continuing violation doctrine.”
CFPB defends MLA and Payday Rule position in Senate hearing
On March 12, Director of the CFPB, Kathy Kraninger, testified at a hearing held by the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee on the CFPB’s Semi-Annual Report to Congress. While Kraninger’s opening statement and question responses were similar to her comments made last week during a House Financial Services Committee hearing (detailed coverage here), notable highlights include:
- Fair Lending. Kraninger did not provide a status update on the Bureau’s pre-rulemaking activities as they relate to whether disparate impact is cognizable under ECOA, but emphasized that the Bureau is committed to the fair lending mission.
- Data Collection. In response to concerns over the Bureau’s history of expansive data collection, Kraninger noted that data collection is an especially important tool for rulemaking, but stated that going-forward she would ensure the Bureau only collects the information needed to carry out the Bureau’s mission, noting that the less personally identifiable information that is collected, the less that requires protection. She acknowledged the Bureau is reviewing the comments submitted in response to its fall 2018 data governance program report (covered by InfoBytes here) and stated the Bureau remains committed to reviewing the internal processes it has for collecting and using data.
- Military Lending Act (MLA). Kraninger stated that she disagrees with the Democratic Senator’s broad interpretation of Section 1024(b)(1)(C) of the Dodd-Frank Act allowing for the Bureau to examine for compliance with the MLA because that interpretation would permit the Bureau to examine for anything that is a “risk to consumers,” including things like safety and soundness, which is not currently under the Bureau’s purview. While she acknowledged that the Bureau has the direct authority to enforce the MLA, she repeatedly rejected the notion that this would also give the Bureau the authority to supervise for the MLA, as Dodd-Frank separates the Bureau’s enforcement and supervision powers.
- Payday Rule. Kraninger repeatedly emphasized that the reconsideration of the underwriting standards in the Payday Rule was to determine if the legal and factual basis used to justify certain practices as unfair and abusive was “robust” enough. She acknowledged that the Bureau will be reviewing all the comments to the proposal and that the evidence used for the original Rule will be part of the record for the reconsideration.
- GSE Patch. In response to questions regarding the 2021 expiration of the Qualified Mortgage (QM) Rule’s 43 percent debt-to-income ratio exception for mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs), Kraninger acknowledged the “non-QM” market hasn’t materialized over the last few years, as was originally anticipated. However, Kraninger was reluctant to provide any further details, noting that she would not be making any “dramatic changes” to the mortgage market. Additionally, she acknowledged that the GSE patch has the potential to expire at the end of the conservatorship as well.
- CFPB Structure. Kraninger did not specify whether she believes the Bureau should be led by a board, rather than a single director, or whether the Bureau should be under appropriations. Specifically Kraninger stated that she would “welcome any changes Congress made that would increase the accountability and transparency of the Bureau,” and would “dutifully carry out” legislation that would place the Bureau under appropriations if the President signed it.
- Student Lending. Kraninger stated that the Bureau intends to re-engage with the Department of Education on a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to assist with complaint and information sharing once a new Student Loan Ombudsmen has been hired. The MOUs were previously terminated by the Department in August 2018 (covered by Infobytes here).
14 state Attorneys General urge CFPB not to change ECOA disparate impact liability
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.
17 state Attorneys General urge HUD not to change Disparate Impact Regulation
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.
District Court rules city failed to prove bank engaged in discriminatory lending practices
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.
HUD publishes ANPR on Disparate Impact Regulation
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.
HUD announces plan to seek public comment on Disparate Impact Regulation
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.
City of Philadelphia’s discriminatory lending lawsuit moves forward
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.