The Department of Housing and Urban Development announced Friday that it is charging Bank of America and two of its employees with discriminating against Hispanic mortgage borrowers.
The charges stem from a complaint filed by the National Fair Housing Alliance, which conducted a series of “secret shopper” tests where Hispanic and non-Hispanic individuals, posing as prospective mortgage borrowers, attempted to get a mortgage from a Bank of America branch in Charleston, South Carolina.
According to the National Fair Housing Alliance and HUD, Hispanic prospective mortgage borrowers were given inferior loan options when compared to non-Hispanic prospective borrowers.
Specifically, the NFHA claimed that bank discriminated against prospective borrowers who are Hispanic by failing to provide them with information about loan products or by offering them loan products with less attractive terms, as compared to prospective borrowers who are not Hispanic.
HUD’s charge, which can be read here and details the alleged discrimination, accused Bank of America of discrimination based on national origin by treating the Hispanic testers less favorably than the non-Hispanic testers, which would qualify as a violation of the Fair Housing Act.
The Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful to deny or discriminate in the terms and conditions of a mortgage or loan modification based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability.
It’s important to note that HUD’s charge is merely a charge, not proof that Bank of America, nor the two employees in question, discriminated against anyone. The case will be heard in federal district court.
Then, if it is determined that illegal discrimination occurred, a judge may award actual and punitive damages, order injunctive or other equitable relief to deter further discrimination, and order that defendants pay NFHA’s attorney fees, HUD said.
“Today’s charge reflects our nation’s promise of fair housing and equal access to credit for qualified families, regardless of their national origin,” said Gustavo Velasquez, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “HUD will continue working to ensure that lenders fulfill their obligation under the law to treat all applicants equally.”