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In March, NYDFS released a report detailing the findings of an investigation into whether a global technology company and a New York state-chartered bank allegedly discriminated against women when making underwriting decisions for a co-branded credit card. According to the report, in 2019, allegations were made that the bank offered lower credit limits to women applicants and unfairly denied women accounts. NYDFS launched a fair lending investigation into the allegations and reviewed underwriting data for nearly 400,000 New Yorker residents, but ultimately found no evidence of unlawful disparate treatment or disparate impact. Among other things, the report noted that the bank “had a fair lending program in place for ensuring its lending policy—and underlying statistical model—did not consider prohibited characteristics of applicants and would not produce disparate impacts.” The bank also identified the factors it used when making the credit decisions, including credit scores, indebtedness, income, credit utilization, missed payments, and other credit history elements, all of which, NYDFS stated, appeared to be consistent with its credit policy.
CFPB Director Speaks at National Community Reinvestment Coalition Conference; Discusses Regulatory Review at Chamber of Commerce 11th Annual Capital Markets Summit
On March 29, CFPB Director Richard Cordray spoke at the National Community Reinvestment Coalition Conference in Washington, D.C. to discuss, among other things, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and the difficulties faced by individuals who cannot obtain mainstream credit. As previously covered in InfoBytes, the CFPB is exploring the risks and benefits of using “alternative data” to assist consumers whose limited credit histories prevent them from accessing many lending opportunities. Cordray stated that one of the CFPB’s priorities “is [to increase] the availability of responsible financial products and services, especially for those who have been underserved or shut out.”
The next day, on March 30, Cordray spoke at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s 11th Annual Capital Markets Summit in Washington, D.C. In prepared remarks, Cordray discussed the regulatory compliance challenges and burdens that financial organizations face, as well as the CFPB’s efforts to assist with regulatory implementation, the development of clearer guidance, and methods to streamline and modernize regulations based on effectiveness. Cordray noted the CFPB’s efforts to improve and adapt regulations based on the needs of the industry. “We learn from the comments we receive and our final rules are helpfully informed by that input on a consistent basis,” Cordray stated. “But even after we issue a final rule, if the data shows over time that any of our substantive calls need to be reconsidered, we can and will face the issue frankly and address it. We will not let pride of authorship interfere with the serious task of policymaking in the interests of consumers and the American public.” As mandated by Congress, the CFPB must review any significant rules after five years have passed. The CFPB plans to review remittance rules followed by a review of the mortgage rules. Cordray also noted efforts to address ambiguities and conflicts in other areas such as debt collection and payday lending.
Appellate Court Holds Secondary Market Mortgage Investor Not Liable Under ECOA for Discriminatory Conduct of Unaffiliated Originator
On February 16, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued an opinion addressing whether Section 8 mortgage applicants may claim discrimination under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) by both a mortgage originator and a subsequent investor in the secondary mortgage market. See Alexander v. AmeriPro Funding, Inc. No. 15-20710, 2017 WL 650193 (5th Cir. Feb. 16, 2017). At issue before the Appellate Court were claims alleging that both the mortgage originator that interacted with borrowers, made credit decisions, and actually gave mortgages to home buyers, and the investor, engaged in the business of investing in or buying mortgages originated by the mortgage originator, were subject to liability for discriminatory conduct in violation of ECOA based upon plaintiffs’ allegations that “they applied for mortgages through [the mortgage originator] and that [the mortgage originator] did not consider their Section 8 income in processing the application because it intended to sell the mortgages to [the investor].”
Ultimately, the Court denied all but a small subset of the various claims asserted by plaintiffs. Among other things, the Court held: (i) that the record did not support a claim that the investor—having purchased the mortgages at issue in the secondary market after execution—discriminated against and/or failed to consider Section 8 income in assessing the creditworthiness of any plaintiff; (ii) that plaintiffs’ allegations concerning their application with the mortgage originator could not also be applied to a subsequent secondary mortgage investor such as the investor; and (iii) that the record similarly did not support a finding that the investor was a “creditor” with respect to the plaintiffs and/or the mortgage agreements entered into with the mortgage originator.
The Appellate Court did, however, side with plaintiffs as to those claims against the mortgage originator that set forth facts plausibly alleging conduct on the part of the mortgage originator that might constitute improper discounting of Section 8 income in assessing their creditworthiness. The Appellate Court reversed the district court’s dismissal as to those claims and remanded for further proceedings.
Notably, the Court expressly disagreed with the CFPB’s argument (as amicus) for a broader definition of “creditor” under ECOA and Regulation B’s definition of the term because it determined that “a potential assignee who establishes underwriting guidelines for its purchases but does not influence individual credit it not a creditor,” and that Regulation B’s definition would not include “those who have no direct involvement whatsoever in an individual credit decision.”
Nation's Biggest Bank Agrees to $55 Million Settlement with DOJ Regarding Allegations of Discriminatory Lending Practices
On January 18, the DOJ filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York accusing a national bank of discriminating against minorities in home lending. According to the government’s complaint, the DOJ alleges, among other things, that the bank “failed to adequately monitor for and fully remedy the effects of race and national origin disparities in APR” and did not “maintain adequate data to determine whether it was discriminating” before ending its wholesale lending practice in late 2009. Two days later, on January 20, the bank agreed to settle the matter and will pay $55 million, while denying any wrong doing. The bank maintains its view that the DOJ’s case is based on legacy allegations that concern pricing decisions of independent third-party brokers. The details of the settlement have not been released as of the publication date of this post.
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.
On November 30, the DOJ announced the filing of a complaint and proposed consent order against a Massachusetts-based bank alleged to have violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) by charging African-American and Hispanic borrowers higher prices for home loans than similarly situated white borrowers. From 2011 until at least 2014, the bank allegedly used a “target pricing” mortgage origination policy, assigning loan officers with a Minimum Base Price (MBP) they were expected to achieve on each home loan without regard to the borrower’s creditworthiness. According to the DOJ’s complaint, “African-American and Hispanic borrowers were served disproportionately by loan officers with higher MBPs than the loan officers serving white borrowers.” The complaint further alleges that, from April 2011 through December 2013, the bank authorized loan officers to price a loan higher than their assigned MBP, without documenting the reasons for doing so. Pending court approval, the DOJ’s proposed consent order will require the bank to (i) pay $1,175,000 as compensation to borrowers affected by its practices; (ii) establish a new loan pricing policy and a new loan officer compensation policy; (iii) provide fair lending and fair housing training to loan officers and bank employees; and (iv) establish a monitoring program designed to, at a minimum, assess loan pricing disparities.
In May 2013, the FDIC conducted a consumer compliance examination of the bank and found reason to believe that its lending practices violated the FHA and ECOA, prompting the agency to refer the matter to the DOJ on February 7, 2014.
On September 10, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced a settlement agreement with a New York-based community bank to resolve allegations that the bank engaged in discriminatory mortgage lending practices by excluding potential borrowers who resided in predominantly African-American neighborhoods in the Buffalo area. Under terms of the agreement, the bank agreed to revise its consumer and commercial lending policies to eliminate minimum mortgage amount requirements, provide fair lending training, to expand its lending footprint into previously excluded areas, and to establish an $825,000 fund to promote new homeownership and affordable housing opportunities.
CFPB and DOJ Reach $24 Million Settlement with Indirect Auto Lender to Resolve Discriminatory Pricing Allegations
On July 14, the CFPB and DOJ announced a $24 million settlement with an indirect auto lender to resolve allegations that the lender offered higher interest rates to minority borrowers compared to white borrowers with a similar credit risk profile. Specifically, both agencies contended that the lender allowed their partnering dealers excessive discretion to increase the lender’s base interest rate with a “dealer markup” on auto loan contracts, which resulted in discriminatory pricing. Under terms of the settlement, the lender agreed to, among other things, (i) pay $24 million in restitution to affected borrowers, (ii) impose dealer markup rate caps on auto loans, and (iii) improve its policies and procedures related to auto loan pricing and compensation program. Notably, the Bureau did not impose a civil money penalty due to the lender’s responsible conduct. The Bureau filed its consent order in an administrative enforcement action. In a separate announcement, the DOJ filed its complaint and consent order in federal court, which will require judicial approval. The lender was represented in the matter by BuckleySandler.
On July 13, HUD announced guidance regarding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and marital status. The guidance on Multifamily Assisted and Insured Housing Programs was intended to clarify the 2012 Equal Access to Housing in HUD Programs Regardless of Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity Rule (“Equal Access Rule”). HUD clarified that, in addition to individual program eligibility requirements established by HUD, a determination of eligibility for housing that is assisted by HUD or subject to a mortgage insured by the FHA “will be made available without regard to actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status.” The guidance also clarifies that owners, administrators, and other recipients and sub-recipients of HUD funds associated with HUD-assisted housing or housing whose financing is insured by HUD may not inquire about the sexual orientation or gender identity of an applicant for, or occupant of, such housing, and notes that the rule is applicable whether such housing is renter or owner occupied. HUD noted that future Management and Occupancy Reviews may include a review for compliance with the Equal Access Rule. The guidance was coordinated with the July 13 White House Conference on Aging, with the White House emphasizing that the Equal Access Rule also applies to Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly.
On May 28, the CFPB, along with the DOJ, filed a joint complaint against a California-based mortgage lender alleging that the lender violated the Equal Credit Opportunity Act by engaging in a pattern or practice of discrimination from 2006 to 2011 that increased loan prices for African-American and Hispanic borrowers. The DOJ also alleges that the lender violated the Fair Housing Act. According to the complaint, the lender’s mortgage broker compensation policy, which incented discretionary interest rate and fee increases to borrowers, resulted in approximately 14,000 African-American and Hispanic borrowers being charged higher total broker fees on wholesale mortgage loans than non-Hispanic white borrowers. The complaint alleges that the higher fees were not based on the borrowers’ credit risk profile, but rather on the basis of race or national origin. The parties separately filed a proposed consent order which would require the mortgage lender to, among other things, pay $9 million in consumer relief to affected borrowers to resolve the allegations. The proposed consent order is currently pending court approval.
- Jonice Gray Tucker to join CFPB panel at CBA’s Washington Forum
- Jonice Gray Tucker to moderate “Pandemic relief response and lasting impacts on access, credit, banking, and equality” at the American Bar Association Business Law Section Spring Meeting
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "Post-pandemic CFPB exam preparation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Spring Conference & Expo
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Making fair lending work for you" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Spring Conference & Expo
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Reading the tea leaves of President Biden’s initial financial appointees" at LendIt Fintech
- Moorari K. Shah to discuss “CA, NY, federal licensing and disclosure” at the Equipment Leasing & Finance Association Legal Forum
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Compliance under Biden" at the WSJ Risk & Compliance Forum
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “The future of fair lending” at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference