A civil complaint and proposed settlement agreement were filed on Friday by the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York to resolve claims that Bank of America, N.A. participated in discrimination on the basis of disability.
Beginning in January 2010 and in violation of the Fair Housing Act, the DOJ alleges that the bank maintained a policy of denying mortgages and home equity loans to adults with disabilities who were under legal guardianship or conservatorships.
“Bank of America asserts that it did not unlawfully discriminate against any person based on a disability or otherwise, and asserts that the allegations in the Complaint concern previous underwriting guidelines, which it has since voluntarily changed, that were implemented by the Bank after the financial crisis of 2009-2010 for the purpose of protecting at-risk applicants from financial exploitation,” a Bank of America representative said.
Prior to the investigation, the bank changed its policy in 2016 for mortgage loans and in 2017 for home equity loans – the current terms of the settlement require the bank to continue to maintain its “non-discriminatory loan underwriting policies and train its employees on the new policies.”
“No one in this free country should be denied access to the American Dream merely because of a disability. The unalienable right to pursue happiness extends to all people, including those with disabilities, and purchasing a home is one way many people exercise this right,” said Eric Dreiband, assistant attorney general of the Civil Rights Division.
The settlement will also require the bank to pay $4,000 per loan to eligible loan applicants who were affected by its prior discriminatory policies and monitor all loan processing and underwriting activities to ensure compliance with the Fair Housing Act.
According to Bank of America, the settlement impacts roughly 75 prior applicants and the DOJ anticipates that the payments will total approximately $300,000.
“The Fair Housing Act prohibits banks from denying mortgage loans and other housing-related credit to people because of their disabilities, and this department will hold accountable those lenders who engage in such illegal conduct,” Dreiband said.
A Bank of America representative responded to the settlement and claims on behalf of the bank with:
- Bank of America has an outstanding record of supporting clients and employees with disabilities, including being recognized with a top score in the Disability Equality Index for four years.
- Due to concerns about possible exploitation, the bank for a period of time limited mortgage loans for people with guardians.
- We updated our policies more than three years ago to expand access to such loans.
- Our Disability Advisory Council works to consistently improve and further develop our strategy to serve employees, clients and communities.
According to the American Institutes for Research, there are 64 million people in the U.S. living with a disability, and under the Fair Housing Act, people with disabilities may request reasonable accommodations and modifications in buying or renting a home, taking out a mortgage, seeking housing assistance or engaging in other housing-related transactions.
This most recent settlement does not mark the first time Bank of America allegedly violated the Fair Housing Act. In 2018, a suit filed by the National Fair Housing Alliance accused Bank of America and Safeguard Properties Management of “intentionally failing to provide routine exterior maintenance and marketing for Bank of America-owned homes in African American and Latino neighborhoods across 37 metro areas, while consistently maintaining similar bank-owned properties in white neighborhoods.”
In 2019, the companies moved to dismiss the case, however, a federal judge denied the motion, stating that the plaintiffs had sufficiently alleged disparate impact.
Recently, amendments to the Fair Housing Act have come under scrutiny after the Department of Housing and Urban Development proposed changes on the interpretation of the disparate impact standard – which would make it more difficult to prove housing discrimination.