The Department of Justice filed a settlement today with Fifth Third Mortgage Company to resolve allegations that it engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination on the basis of disability and receipt of public assistance in violation of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA). Under the settlement, Fifth Third has agreed to maintain revised policies, conduct employee training and pay over $1.5 million to compensate victims.
This lawsuit arose as a result of a complaint filed by loan applicants with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The loan applicants elected to have the case heard in federal court and the Secretary of HUD referred the case to the Department of Justice.
The settlement, which is subject to court approval, was filed today in Macon, Georgia with the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia where one of the affected borrowers is located. The terms of the settlement require Fifth Third to establish a settlement fund of $1,522,000 to compensate eligible mortgage loan applicants who were asked to provide a letter from their doctor to document the income they received from Social Security Disability Insurance. Under the settlement, Fifth Third will also conduct training of its underwriters and loan officers and will monitor loan applications to insure that applicants with disabilities are not asked for a letter from a doctor.
A second defendant in the case, mortgage broker Cranbrook Mortgage Corporation, has revised its underwriting practices, will train its loan officers and will pay $2,000 to compensate the loan applicants who filed the HUD complaint. The Department of Justice does not allege that Cranbrook Mortgage Corporation discriminated against other loan applicants.
“Today’s settlement continues the shift away from an industry practice that violates the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Molly Moran for the Civil Rights Division.
“A person’s medical information is often some of the most personal information in and about their life,” said U.S. Attorney Michael J. Moore for the Middle District of Georgia. “My office is proud to have participated with our fellow attorneys from the Department of Justice in reaching a resolution of this matter that protects those with disabilities from having this unnecessary, inappropriate and illegal intrusion into the most private of their affairs.”
“Today’s announcement holds lending institutions accountable for their actions, and is a reminder that every American has the right to apply for a home loan and live in the community of their choice,” said HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Gustavo Velazquez.
The settlement comes after an investigation by the Department of Justice. Fifth Third cooperated fully with the department’s investigation into its lending practices and agreed to settle this matter without contested litigation. The lawsuit was developed and filed by the Fair Lending Unit of the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section in the department’s Civil Rights Division. Since the Fair Lending Unit was established in February 2010, it has filed or resolved 35 lending matters under the Fair Housing Act, ECOA and the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. The settlements in these matters provide for more than $1 billion in monetary relief for impacted communities and individual borrowers.
The Civil Rights Division and HUD are members of the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. President Obama established the interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. The task force includes representatives from a broad range of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general and state and local law enforcement who, working together, bring to bear a powerful array of criminal and civil enforcement resources. The task force is working to improve efforts across the federal executive branch, and with state and local partners, to investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes, ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, combat discrimination in the lending and financial markets and recover proceeds for victims of financial crimes. For more information on the task force, visit www.StopFraud.gov .
A copy of the complaint, as well as additional information about fair lending enforcement by the department can be obtained from the department’s website at www.justice.gov/fairhousing .