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On January 4, 2021, Representative Al Green of Texas, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations for the House Financial Services Committee, re-introduced H.R. 166, titled the Fair Lending for All Act, a bill he previously introduced in 2019. The proposed bill would significantly revise the application and enforcement of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) and would further expand lenders’ collection and reporting obligations under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA).
Continue Reading Re-introduced Fair Lending for All Act Proposes Stiffer ECOA Penalties and CFPB Testing Office

With President Joe Biden’s inauguration as the Nation’s 46th President, change is coming to Washington. And that change will be felt quickly and acutely at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). At President Biden’s request, CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger submitted her resignation on Wednesday, clearing the way for the President to appoint current FTC Commissioner and former CFPB official Rohit Chopra as the next Director of the agency. Given the CFPB’s single Director structure, the new Director will have significant opportunities to shape the direction of the CFPB over the next four years. Below we address what we can expect to see from CFPB under the new administration.
Continue Reading A New Day Dawns at the CFPB

On October 28, 2020, the CFPB’s Private Education Loan Ombudsman published its annual report on student loans, as required by the Dodd-Frank Act. Despite an increased focus on student loans by many state legislatures and regulators and some members of Congress, the report reflects a significant decline in the number of consumer complaints about student loans over the past year. The report analyzes complaints submitted by consumers about student lenders and servicers between September 2019 and August 2020. Notably, the report covers a period during which many student loan borrowers have experienced financial hardships as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the federal government – as well as some state governments (in partnership with holders of private student loans) – has offered a myriad of loss mitigation options for eligible student loan borrowers.

Continue Reading 2020 CFPB Student Loan Ombudsman’s Report Shows Significant Trend of Declining Consumer Complaints

Last week, a pair of fair housing organizations got their wish when a federal judge in Massachusetts granted their request for a preliminary injunction and stay of the effective date of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) new disparate impact rule (the “2020 Rule”), discussed in our recent fair lending newsletter. Plaintiffs Massachusetts Fair Housing Center and Housing Works, Inc. filed a motion in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts seeking to vacate HUD’s 2020 Rule under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), on the grounds that it is “contrary to law,” “arbitrary and capricious,” and that certain of its provisions violate the APA’s notice and comment requirements. The court only addressed the plaintiffs’ second argument—that the 2020 Rule is arbitrary and capricious—which it found was likely meritorious.

The court compared the disparate impact rule HUD had issued in 2013 (“2013 Rule”) to the 2020 Rule. Both versions of the rule state the general premise that liability may be established under the Fair Housing Act based on a practice’s discriminatory effect, if the practice was not motivated by a discriminatory intent. But as the court noted, the 2020 Rule significantly altered the 2013 Rule’s standards. The court found that the changes HUD had made constituted a “massive overhaul” of HUD’s disparate impact standards, by introducing onerous pleading requirements on plaintiffs while simultaneously easing the burden on defendants and arming them with broad new defenses.
Continue Reading More Uncertainty around the Future of the Disparate Impact Theory of Liability

Yesterday, we issued the inaugural edition of Mayer Brown’s Fair Lending Newsletter. Our goal in publishing this newsletter is to provide you with a quarterly resource covering the most notable fair-lending developments of the past three months. In this edition, we cover various topics, from the current state of fair lending at federal government agencies

On September 15, 2020, the CFPB published a detailed outline of proposed options it is considering to implement a rule under Section 1071 of the Dodd Frank Act. Ten years ago, Section 1071 amended the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) to require that financial institutions collect and report information concerning credit applications made by women- or minority-owned businesses and by small businesses. Although the CFPB was tasked with drafting rules to implement Section 1071, it did not take significant steps to meet that obligation until 2017, when it reported on some preliminary research, and then later in November 2019, when it held an information-gathering symposium.

As we previously noted, once Section 1071 is implemented, certain financial institutions will be required to collect information regarding the race, sex, and ethnicity of the principal owners of small businesses and women- and minority-owned businesses and submit this information to the CFPB, similar to what is currently required by the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act for mortgage loans. The CFPB’s outline released this week proposes several potential options for developing the small business lending data collection rule and is a precursor to any future proposed rulemaking. At this stage, the CFPB is seeking feedback on the direction of the rule. Feedback and comments on the scope of the rule can be sent to 2020-SBREFA-1071@cfpb.gov until December 14, 2020. The CFPB is also seeking feedback on the potential impacts on small business entities and has requested submission of such feedback by November 9, 2020.

Below, we summarize the key aspects of the Bureau’s outline and its proposals regarding the scope of the rule.
Continue Reading CFPB Finally Makes Progress on Implementing Small Business Lending Data Collection Requirements

On July 30, 2020, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (“NCRC”) and several other consumer advocacy organizations filed suit against the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB” or the “Bureau”), claiming that the Bureau’s recent Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (“HMDA”) rulemaking violates the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”). The challenged rule increases the loan-volume reporting thresholds under Regulation C, which implements HMDA. Under the new rule, entities that originate fewer than 100 qualifying closed-end mortgage loans or fewer than 200 qualifying open-end lines of credit would not be required to collect and report data regarding their mortgage lending activities. The plaintiffs filed the complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and are requesting that the court vacate the new rule and require the Bureau to return to the prior thresholds.

HMDA requires mortgage lenders that originate a minimum number of mortgage loans to collect, report, and disclose certain information related to their mortgage origination and purchase activities. The law’s primary purpose is to provide the public with information on lending practices, including whether lenders are meeting the housing needs of certain communities or potentially engaging in discriminatory practices. HMDA data is a critical tool for plaintiffs and regulators assessing disparate impact claims. The appropriate framework for bringing disparate impact claims has been the subject of recent controversy, with key industry stakeholders asking the Department of Housing and Urban Development to hold off on finalizing its 2019 Proposed Disparate Impact Rule. Regardless of the specifics of the disparate impact legal framework, HMDA data remains a critical component for bringing (and defending) disparate impact claims in mortgage lending.  
Continue Reading NCRC Files Suit Against CFPB over HMDA Reporting Thresholds

On July 28, 2020, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB or the Bureau) published a request for information (RFI) on opportunities for the Bureau to clarify the Equal Credit Opportunity Act’s (ECOA) implementing regulation, Regulation B, in a way that prevents credit discrimination and promotes credit access and innovation. The Bureau seeks feedback on a diverse set of topics, though the request is not limited to the below topics. Commenters are encouraged to address any aspects of ensuring fair access to credit and promoting innovation.

Arguably the most controversial topic in the RFI is the Bureau’s request for feedback on the appropriate framework for assessing disparate impact claims under ECOA. In 2019, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) published a proposed disparate impact rule that purports to align HUD’s 2013 disparate impact rule with the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Texas Dept. of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., a landmark Fair Housing Act case. HUD’s proposed rule has been the subject of significant controversy, with consumer advocacy groups arguing that it goes beyond the Supreme Court’s decision and that the heightened pleading standards outlined in the proposed rule would impermissibly extinguish the viability of disparate impact claims in the future. And recently, several of the largest banks and non-bank mortgage lenders, along with several trade associations, have asked HUD to hold off on finalizing the rule and bring key stakeholders together to discuss the disparate impact framework. Nevertheless, HUD has indicated that it plans to move forward with the implementation of the rule. If the CFPB outlines a framework for assessing disparate impact claims under ECOA that is different than the framework HUD ultimately implements, this could lead to significant uncertainty for the mortgage industry, because it is subject to both ECOA and the Fair Housing Act.

The RFI also seeks comments on whether and how the Bureau should clarify its interpretation of ECOA and Regulation B to facilitate innovation in the context of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), such as by modifying adverse action notice requirements in connection with credit underwriting decisions based in part on models using AI or ML. This request comes just weeks after the CFPB published a blog post addressing how adverse action notice requirements under ECOA and Regulation B apply to AI-driven credit decisions. The blog post suggests that the existing official commentary to the Regulation B allows for some flexibility in how creditors explain decisions to applicants. But the CFPB is interested in understanding how creditors are determining the “principal reasons” for a denial, and how to best convey those reasons. Accordingly, in the blog post, the CFPB encouraged institutions to use its regulatory sandbox, trial disclosure program, and no-action letter process to explore creative ways of informing consumers of the reasons for denial when using complex AI/ML algorithms. The RFI is an opportunity for entities to suggest other ways for the Bureau to clarify its interpretation of ECOA.
Continue Reading CFPB Seeks Input on Fair Lending Laws and Interpretations to Help Foster Innovation and Prevent Credit Discrimination

On July 15, 2020, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau filed a lawsuit against Townstone Financial, Inc., a Chicago-based mortgage lender and mortgage broker, alleging that Townstone “redlined” African-American neighborhoods in the Chicago Metropolitan Statistical Area and discouraged prospective applicants from applying to Townstone for mortgage loans on the basis of race. This marks the first