Jenna Greene The National Law Journal 01-03-2013
Bank of America has agreed to pay $7,500 and update its employee training to settle a claim that it discriminated against a lesbian couple seeking a mortgage—the first such enforcement action by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The discrimination claim was brought under HUD's new Equal Access rule, which went into effect in March 2012. The rule, which bars lenders from basing loan eligibility determinations on actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status, has been hailed by activists as one of the most significant federal nondiscrimination efforts on behalf of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
According to HUD, a Florida couple sought a mortgage from Bank of America to buy a property in South Daytona. One of the women was not employed, so she listed her partner's mother as a co-applicant on the loan. But the day before the closing, BoA denied the loan because the applicant and her partner were not married, and therefore the applicant and co-applicant were not directly related.
"This agreement demonstrates that HUD will vigorously enforce its Equal Access rule and pursue lenders that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status," said HUD general counsel Helen Kanovsky in a January 2 news release. "By the same token, BoA should be commended for stepping up and taking immediate corrective action after HUD notified BoA of the violation."
As part of the settlement, the bank agreed to update its existing fair lending training program to include information about the new rule's prohibition against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
HUD's actions were applauded by the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Policy director Maya Rupert called the settlement "a turning point for the LGBT community in its fight for equal access to fair and affordable housing. This settlement agreement shows how serious HUD is about working to ensure all people and their families can access public housing and crucial housing programs."
A spokesperson for Bank of America did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In the settlement, the bank did not admit wrongdoing.