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  • Halperin discusses invoking UDAAP under CFPA

    Federal Issues

    On June 29, the American University Washington College of Law held a symposium centered in part around the CFPB’s new approach for examining institutions for unfair conduct. During the CFPB’s New Approach to Discrimination: Invoking UDAAP symposium, CFPB Assistant Director for the Office of Enforcement Eric Halperin answered questions related to updates recently made to the Bureau’s Unfair, Deceptive, or Abusive Acts or Practices Examination Manual. These updates detail the agency’s view that its broad authority under UDAAP allows it to address discriminatory conduct in the offering of any financial product or service as an unfair act or practice. (Covered by a Buckley Special Alert here.) The Bureau published a separate blog post by its enforcement and supervision heads explaining that they were “cracking down on discrimination in the financial sector,” and that the new procedures would guide examiners to look “beyond discrimination directly connected to fair lending laws” and “to review any policies or practices that exclude individuals from products and services, or offer products or services with different terms, in an unfairly discriminatory manner.”

    Assistant Director Halperin’s remarks were followed by a discussion of the Bureau’s revisions to its Examination Manual by a panel that consisted of David Silberman of the Center for Responsible Lending, Kitty Ryan of the American Bankers Association, and John Coleman of Buckley LLP, which was moderated by Jerry Buckley. Topics covered included a June 28 letter that trade associations sent to the CFPB urging recission of revisions to the Examination Manual.

    In his interview with American University Law School Professor V. Gerard Comizio, Halperin stated that the CFPB’s Examination Manual updates provide guidance on how examiners will implement the Bureau’s statutory authority to examine whether an act or practice is unfair because it may cause or is likely to cause substantial injury to consumers that is not reasonably avoidable and not outweighed by countervailing benefits to consumers or competition. He stressed that the update does not create a new legal standard under the three prongs of the unfairness standard. Halperin also discussed how the Bureau’s UDAAP authority interacts with laws enacted specifically to prevent discriminatory conduct such as ECOA and the Fair Housing Act, and touched on steps institutions should consider taking to ensure compliance. Notably, when asked whether the Bureau intends to pursue disparate impact claims under the CFPA, Halperin stated that disparate impact, along with disparate treatment, are wholly distinct concepts from Dodd-Frank’s prohibition on unfair acts and practices. He added that in assessing an unfair act and practice, the key is to examine the substantial injury prong and then assess the reasonable avoidability and the countervailing benefits prongs. He further explained that the unfairness test does not contain an intentional standard and noted that there have been cases brought by both the FTC and the Bureau where there was injurious conduct that was not intentional or specifically known to the party engaging in this practice. According to Halperin, substantial injury alone is not sufficient to prove unfairness and using disparate impact as the mechanism of proof is not what the Bureau uses to prove an unfairness claim.

    Halperin reiterated that the CFPB Examination Manual is designed to provide transparency to financial institutions about the types of issues that examiners will be inquiring about in furtherance of determining whether there has been an unfair act or practice under the current framework, and does not extend or create new law. In terms of practical compliance implications, Halperin said most financial institutions should already have robust UDAAP compliance systems in place and should already be looking for potential unfair acts or practices and examining patterns and group characteristics to identify the root cause of any issues, and to avoid substantial injury to consumers. With respect to a white paper recently sent to CFPB Director Rohit Chopra from several industry groups and the U.S Chamber of Commerce urging the Bureau to rescind the UDAAP exam manual (covered by InfoBytes here), Halperin commented that he has not had time to fully digest the white paper in detail but hoped that some of what was discussed during the symposium, particularly on the legal principles that will be used both in the exam manual and in any supervision and enforcement actions, clarifies that the Bureau is looking for conduct that violates the unfairness test.

    Federal Issues Agency Rule-Making & Guidance CFPB Examination UDAAP Unfair Disparate Impact Discrimination ECOA Fair Housing Act

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  • FDIC updates Consumer Compliance Examination Manual’s UDAAP provisions

    On June 17, the FDIC announced updates to its Consumer Compliance Examination Manual (CEM). The CEM includes supervisory policies and examination procedures for FDIC examination staff when evaluating financial institutions’ compliance with federal consumer protection laws and regulations. The June update modifies Section VII Unfair, Deceptive, or Abusive Acts or Practices to reflect the FDIC’s existing supervisory authority regarding UDAP and UDAAP under Section 5 of the FTC Act, and Sections 1031 and 1036 of the Dodd-Frank Act, respectively. Among other updates, the new Section VII changes language related to the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and Fair Housing Act to add a reference to Dodd-Frank UDAAP provisions. The updated section provides the following:

    ECOA prohibits discrimination in any aspect of a credit transaction against persons on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age (provided the applicant has the capacity to contract), the fact that an applicant’s income derives from any public assistance program, and the fact that the applicant has in good faith exercised any right under the Consumer Credit Protection Act. The FHA prohibits creditors involved in residential real estate transactions from discriminating against any person on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin. FTC UDAPs and Dodd-Frank UDAAPs that target or have a disparate impact on consumers in one of these prohibited basis groups may violate the ECOA or the FHA, as well as the FTC Act or the Dodd-Frank Act. Moreover, some state and local laws address discrimination against additional protected classes, e.g., handicap in non-housing transactions, or sexual orientation. Such conduct may also violate the FTC Act or the Dodd-Frank Act.

    With respect to the legal standards for “unfair” and “deceptive” under the FTC Act and Dodd-Frank, Section VII notes that these standards are “substantially similar.”

    Bank Regulatory Federal Issues FDIC Examination UDAAP UDAP Compliance FTC Act Dodd-Frank Fair Lending Discrimination ECOA Fair Housing Act

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  • Special Alert: DOJ settles claims of algorithmic bias

    Federal Issues

    On June 21,  the United States Department of Justice announced that it had secured a “groundbreaking” settlement resolving claims brought against a large social media platform for allegedly engaging in discriminatory advertising in violation of the Fair Housing Act. The settlement is one of the first significant federal actions involving claims of algorithmic bias and may indicate the complexity of applying “disparate impact” analysis under the anti-discrimination laws to complex algorithms in this area of increasingly intense regulatory focus.

    Federal Issues DOJ Special Alerts Fair Housing Act Algorithms Advertisement Enforcement Settlement Disparate Impact Discrimination

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  • DOJ: $4.5 million judgment in case targeting Hispanic homeowners

    Federal Issues

    On June 10, the DOJ announced that the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida entered a consent order against several defendants accused of violating the Fair Housing Act by targeting Hispanic homeowners for predatory mortgage loan modification services. After several Hispanic homeowners filed discrimination complaints with HUD, the agency conducted an investigation, issued charges of discrimination, and referred the matter to the DOJ for litigation. According to the DOJ’s complaint, the defendants targeted Hispanic homeowners with deceptive Spanish-language advertising “that falsely promised to cut their mortgage payments in half” and guaranteed “lower payments in a specific timeframe in exchange for thousands of dollars of upfront fees and continuing monthly fees of as much as $550, which defendants claimed were ‘non-refundable.’” The DOJ further contended that many of the targeted Hispanic homeowners (who had limited English proficiency) were told not to communicate with their lenders and were instructed to stop making monthly mortgage payments; however, the defendants allegedly “did little or nothing to obtain the promised loan modifications,” leading to defaults and foreclosures.

    The consent order, reached in partnership with the Civil Rights Division’s Housing Section, enters a nearly $4.6 million judgment (which is mostly suspended) against the defendants to compensate harmed homeowners. Of this amount, $95,000 in total will go to three individuals who intervened as plaintiffs in the DOJ’s lawsuit. Defendants must also pay a $5,000 civil penalty. In addition to monetary relief, the consent order permanently enjoins defendants “from providing any mortgage relief assistance services, including, but not limited to, mortgage loan modification, foreclosure rescue, or foreclosure defense services.” The consent order also imposes training and reporting/recordkeeping requirements for defendants’ other real-estate activities.

    Federal Issues Courts DOJ Fair Lending Fair Housing Act Discrimination Limited English Proficiency Settlement Mortgages HUD Consumer Finance

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  • HUD announces $65,000 payment for FHA violations

    Federal Issues

    On June 2, HUD announced a conciliation agreement with a mortgage lender to resolve allegations that it engaged in discriminatory lending practices based on race and national origin, in violation of the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The agreement arises from a complaint filed with HUD by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC), which alleged that testing in the Seattle-Tacoma area revealed that Black and Hispanic testers were treated differently than White testers who sought housing loans. While the respondent denied that it provided less favorable treatment to testers based on race or national origin, it has agreed to pay $65,000 to NCRC and will “contribute an additional $10,000 to a Seattle-area non-profit organization specializing in providing financial literacy and housing education and counseling for persons in majority-minority census tracts in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metropolitan area.” The respondent will also conduct an event in the Seattle metro area to improve homeownership rates of Black homebuyers and will provide additional fair lending training to employees. The conciliation agreement does not constitute an admission by respondent or evidence of a finding by HUD of a violation of the FHA.

    Federal Issues HUD Enforcement Consumer Finance Fair Lending Mortgages Fair Housing Act Discrimination

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  • National Fair Housing Alliance settles redlining allegations against real estate company

    Federal Issues

    On April 29, the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) announced a settlement agreement with a real estate company resolving allegations that the company perpetuated redlining practices through its policies and procedures. NFHA, along with nine other fair housing organizations, sued the company following an investigation into its practices. The fair housing organizations alleged that the company’s minimum home price policy violated the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against sellers and buyers of homes in communities of color. Limiting or denying services for homes priced under a certain value can “perpetuate racial segregation and contribute to the racial wealth gap” the organizations claimed in the press release. According to the complaint, the company disproportionately withheld its services to homebuyers and sellers in these communities at a higher rate than in White zip codes in multiple major cities across the U.S, thereby disincentivizing homebuying within these communities, reducing housing demand and values, and perpetuating residential segregation. Under the terms of the settlement, the company will make several national operational changes and enhancements, including (i) expanding housing opportunities for consumers in communities of color in major cities throughout the country; (ii) eliminating its minimum housing price policy for a period of five years; and (iii) appointing a fair housing compliance officer, adopting an equal opportunity in housing policy, and developing a fair housing training program. The company will also pay $4 million to go towards expanding homeownership opportunities in the covered cities and to cover conduct monitoring, compliance efforts, litigation fees and costs.

    Federal Issues Fair Housing Fair Housing Act National Fair Housing Alliance Fair Lending Discrimination Settlement Redlining

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  • HUD announces $15,000 payment for FHA violations

    Federal Issues

    On April 19, HUD announced a conciliation agreement with a national bank and one if its loan officers to resolve allegations that respondents violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA) by denying a mortgage loan to a couple until after one of the applicants returned to work from maternity leave. Under the FHA, it is unlawful to discriminate in the terms, conditions, or privileges associated with the sale of a dwelling on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, or familial status, including denying a mortgage loan because an applicant is on maternity leave. In addition to requiring a $15,000 payment be made to the couple, the bank must “adhere to a policy wherein applicants on temporary leave, including parental leave, can be approved for a mortgage prior to returning to active work status,” and provide fair lending training to employees. The conciliation agreement does not constitute an admission by respondents or evidence of a finding by HUD of a violation of the FHA.

    Federal Issues HUD Enforcement Fair Lending Discrimination Fair Housing Act

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  • HUD outlines plan for reducing the racial homeownership gap

    Federal Issues

    On April 14, HUD released its first ever Equity Action Plan (the Plan) to address procurement and resources for the agency’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity in coordination with President Biden’s 2021 Executive Order 13985 on “Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government.” Among other things, the Plan requests funding increases to process, investigate, and resolve fair housing complaints and “to improve capacity to pursue Secretary-initiated investigations and compliance reviews” that do not necessarily stem from public complaints. The Plan also outlines HUD’s approach to reducing the racial homeownership gap, including future rulemakings to implement the Fair Housing Act’s mandate to Affirmatively Further Fair Housing (covered by InfoBytes here) as well as other actions to promote equity. HUD also plans to engage in a range of actions in partnership with federal and non-federal organization to maximize homeownership for creditworthy first-time homebuyers and preserve homeownership for existing homeowners. This includes (i) “improving the efficiency of the [Federal Housing Administration] program by leveraging technologies and removing perceived bias of the program so individuals, lenders, and others can use it more with first time, lower income home buyers”; (ii) increasing outreach to non-traditional lenders; and (iii) considering ways “to increase the availability of small-dollar mortgage loans by addressing the financial and operational barriers limiting origination of these loans.” HUD intends to continue to monitor data on borrowers to determine statistical changes in Black and Hispanic households that access FHA-insured loans and the rest of the mortgage market, and will track FHA lending activity in underserved markets.

    Federal Issues HUD FHA Biden Disparate Impact Fair Lending Fair Housing Act Consumer Finance

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  • DOJ: Property owner’s LEP policies violate FHA

    Federal Issues

    On April 1, the DOJ filed a statement of interest in a 2021 lawsuit alleging defendants violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA) by refusing to rent to applicants with limited English proficiency (LEP) unless someone who speaks and reads English resides in the apartment unit. The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, also alleged that the defendants refused offers made by the applicants to bring their own interpreters to translate lease documents and assist with communications.

    According to the plaintiff fair housing organization, “the defendants’ LEP exclusion policy imposes an unjustified disparate impact on the basis of national origin and race,” with the defendants’ restrictive language policy acting as “a pretext to discriminate against applicants based on” these protected classes. The defendants moved to dismiss the case, “arguing that their LEP exclusion policy cannot, as a matter of law, violate the FHA” and that HUD’s 2016 HUD Office of General Counsel Guidance on Fair Housing Act Protections for Persons with Limited English Proficiency (2016 HUD LEP Guidance), which explains how restrictive language policies may violate the FHA, is wrong and does not deserve deference by the court.

    In its statement of interest, the DOJ agreed with the plaintiff that dismissal of the complaint would be inappropriate. In explaining how policies that screen on the basis of an applicant’s language ability may violate the FHA, the DOJ pointed out that some courts have held that language policies can have an unjustified disparate impact on the basis of national origin or race, while others “have recognized that language polices can serve as proxies or pretexts for intentional discrimination based on national origin or race.” As such the DOJ contended that the defendants’ claim that LEP status is not a protected class under the FHA “misses the point.” The DOJ also defended the 2016 HUD LEP Guidance as a reasonable interpretation of the FHA.

    Federal Issues DOJ Fair Housing Act Discrimination Courts Disparate Impact Limited English Proficiency

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  • District Court dismisses time-barred mortgage discrimination claims

    Courts

    On March 17, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia agreed that claims against a group of mortgage lenders for conduct arising prior to November 2013 were barred under the two-year statute of limitations of the Fair Housing Act (FHA). Plaintiffs Cobb County, DeKalb County, and Fulton County, Georgia (collectively, “Counties”) alleged that the defendants “engaged in, and continue to engage in, discriminatory schemes that expose borrowers to unreasonable levels of risk; needlessly inflate interest rates, penalties, and fees; generate unauthorized and inflated charges for default related services; and lead to higher foreclosure rates among minority borrowers.” According to the Counties, these alleged practices have caused them to incur financial injury, including foreclosure-related costs, loss of property tax revenue, increased segregation, and organizational harm to County departments and authorities due to the forced reallocation of funds to address harms caused by the defendants’ actions. The Counties filed a complaint on November 20, 2015, asserting three counts related to disparate impact and disparate treatment theories under the FHA. Defendants moved for partial summary judgment on statute-of-limitations grounds, arguing that the Counties’ allegations are time-barred because they are based on allegedly discriminatory conduct occurring before November 20, 2013. Defendants further contended that the Counties could not “allege a ‘continuing violation’ that tolls the statute of limitations for each allegedly discriminatory act until the continuing violation ends because [a plaintiff’s] knowledge of a claim, or reason to have knowledge of a claim, cuts off equitable tolling of the statute of limitations for claims based on a continuing violation, and the Counties knew or should have known of their FHA claims at least as of May 2011.”

    The court agreed with the defendants, pointing out that, among other things, there is “copious circumstantial evidence” that the Counties knew or should have known of their claims prior to May 2011, including well publicized allegations against the same defendants for similar conduct, and their retention of outside counsel in 2010 to investigate potential discrimination claims. According to the court, while a reasonable jury could find that the Counties themselves did not know of their claims, the record left no doubt that the outside counsel “knew of the claims prior to the statutory period, or would have known of the claims if he conducted himself with reasonable prudence.” Because the outside counsel’s “knowledge is imputed to his clients, no reasonable jury could find in the Counties’ favor on the statute-of-limitations issue.”

    Courts Redlining Fair Lending Mortgages Consumer Finance Fair Housing Act Disparate Impact

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