The Justice Department announced today that Plaza Home Mortgage Inc. (Plaza) of San Diego will pay $3 million to aggrieved borrowers as part of a settlement to resolve allegations that it engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination on the basis of race and national origin.
The settlement also requires Plaza to establish race- and national origin-neutral standards for the assessment of broker fees, monitor its wholesale mortgage loans for potential disparities based on race and national origin, conduct fair lending training and continue to operate a community enrichment program designed to address the lack of affordable housing and lending products in minority and underserved communities nationwide.
The settlement, which is subject to court approval, was filed in conjunction with the Justice Department’s complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California. The complaint alleges that Plaza charged thousands of African-American and Hispanic borrowers higher fees than white borrowers on wholesale mortgage loans in violation of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA). Plaza cooperated fully with the Justice Department’s investigation into its lending practices and agreed to settle this matter without contested litigation.
“Today’s settlement demonstrates that the Civil Rights Division is committed to ensuring that all lenders, including wholesale lenders, comply with the fair lending laws,” said Jocelyn Samuels, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “We commend Plaza for working cooperatively with the Justice Department in reaching an appropriate resolution of this case.”
The lawsuit originated from a 2011 referral by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
The proceeds of the settlement will be used to compensate the African-American and Hispanic victims of Plaza’s alleged discrimination. The proposed settlement provides for an independent administrator to contact and distribute payments at no cost to borrowers whom the Justice Department identifies as victims. Borrowers who are eligible for compensation will be contacted by the administrator. The department will make a public announcement and post contact information on its website once the administrator begins contacting victims.
“It is patently wrong for a lending institution to require African-American and Hispanic homebuyers to pay more for their mortgages than white borrowers,” said Laura Duffy, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California. “We are happy to be able to make this right for the victims, and to send a message that we will protect people of all races and national origins from injustice of any kind.”
The Justice Department’s enforcement of fair lending laws is conducted by the Fair Lending Unit of the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section in the Civil Rights Division. Since the Fair Lending Unit was established in February 2010, it has filed or resolved 27 lending matters under the FHA, ECOA and the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. The settlements in these matters provide for a minimum of $660 million in monetary relief for impacted communities and more than 300,000 individual borrowers. The Attorney General’s annual reports to Congress subject to ECOA highlight the department’s accomplishments in fair lending and are available at www.justice.gov/crt/publications/
The Civil Rights Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California, and the FTC 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 Justice Department, can be obtained from the Justice Department’s website at www.justice.gov/fairhousing.