Settlement Compensates Affected Borrowers and Allows Bank to Continue Motorcycle Lending Using Revised Dealer Compensation Policies
Evergreen Bank Group of Oak Brook, Illinois, will eliminate or limit the discretion it gives to motorcycle dealers to increase interest rates as part of a settlement of a federal lawsuit alleging a pattern or practice of national origin and race discrimination in motorcycle lending, the Justice Department announced today. In addition to the elimination of dealer discretion, which is consistent with a policy that Evergreen voluntarily adopted in March 2014, the settlement will provide $395,000 in compensation for victims of Evergreen’s past discrimination.
The settlement, which remains subject to court approval, was filed today with the department’s complaint in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Illinois. The complaint alleges that Evergreen violated the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA), by charging approximately 2,200 Hispanic and African-American borrowers higher interest rates than non-Hispanic white borrowers between January 2011 and March 2014. The complaint alleges that Evergreen’s FreedomRoad Financial motorcycle lending unit charged borrowers higher interest rates because of their national origin or race, and not because of the borrowers’ creditworthiness or other objective criteria related to borrower risk. This discriminatory charge would result in the average victim paying about $200 to $250 extra during the term of the loan.
“The department, in cooperation with our partner agencies, continues to closely examine the motor vehicle lending market for potential discrimination,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the Civil Rights Division. “We thank Evergreen for recognizing the risk of discrimination caused by discretionary dealer markups, and adopting new dealer compensation policies that substantially reduce that risk.”
Rather than taking applications directly from consumers, Evergreen makes most of its motorcycle loans through roughly 400 motorcycle dealers nationwide who help their customers pay for their new or used motorcycle by submitting their loan applications to Evergreen.
Until March 2014, Evergreen’s business practice, like many other motor vehicle lenders, allowed motorcycle dealers subjective and unguided discretion to vary a loan’s interest rate from the price Evergreen initially set. The initial price set by Evergreen reflected the borrower’s objective credit-related factors. Dealers received greater payments from Evergreen on loans that included a higher interest rate markup. The department’s December 2013 lawsuit against Ally Financial Inc. and Ally Bank, which resulted in a settlement providing $80 million in borrower compensation, involved a similar compensation system.
In March 2014, Evergreen eliminated motorcycle dealers’ discretion to increase interest rates. Instead, Evergreen adopted a policy of always compensating dealers based on a percentage of the loan principal amount that does not vary based on the loan’s interest rate. No discrimination was observed when the United States analyzed loans made under the new policy. The settlement allows Evergreen to continue using the revised compensation policy it adopted in March 2014.
The lawsuit originated from a March 2013 referral by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Evergreen is regulated by the FDIC.
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 Right Division. Since the Fair Lending Unit was established in February 2010, it has filed or resolved 38 lending matters under the Fair Housing Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, and the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. The settlements in these matters provide over $1.2 billion in monetary relief for impacted communities and individual borrowers. The Attorney General’s annual reports to Congress on 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 Northern District of Illinois, and the FDIC are members of the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. President Obama established this 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.
The settlement provides for an independent administrator to locate victims and distribute payments of compensation at no cost to borrowers whom the department identifies as victims of Evergreen’s discrimination. The department will make a public announcement and post information on its website once more details about the compensation process become available. Borrowers who are eligible for compensation from the settlement will be contacted by the administrator, and do not need to contact the department at this time. Individuals who believe that they may have been victims of lending discrimination by Evergreen and have questions about the settlement may contact the department at 202-514-4713.
A copy of the complaint and proposed settlement order, as well as additional information about fair lending enforcement by the United States Department of Justice, can be obtained from the United States Department of Justice website at www.justice.gov/fairhousing.