On June 20, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (“ANPR”) that seeks public comment on whether and how to amend its 2013 rule under the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”). The ANPR follows HUD’s May 10 announcement of its intention to formally seek public comment on the rule in light of the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., in which the Court recognized disparate impact as a cognizable theory under the FHA, but imposed meaningful limitations on the application of the theory.

The ANPR, together with the statement of Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection Acting Director Mick Mulvaney this spring that the Bureau would be “reexamining the requirements of ECOA” in light of “a recent Supreme Court decision” (i.e., Inclusive Communities), signals that the Trump administration is likely seeking to retreat from the Obama administration’s enthusiastic use of disparate impact liability in lending discrimination cases.

The Disparate Impact Rule and Inclusive Communities

HUD finalized its disparate impact rule in February 2013. The rule codified HUD’s Obama-era view that disparate impact is cognizable under the FHA. In contrast to disparate treatment claims, in which a plaintiff must establish a discriminatory motive, a disparate impact claim challenges practices that have a disproportionately adverse effect on a protected class that is not justified by a legitimate business rationale. The rule states that a practice has a “discriminatory effect” where “it actually or predictably results in a disparate impact on a group of persons or creates, increases, reinforces, or perpetuates segregated housing patterns because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.” HUD explained that it had “consistently concluded” that facially neutral policies that resulted in a discriminatory effect on the basis of a protected characteristic violated the FHA, and that the rule merely “formalize[d] its longstanding view.” The rule also formalized a three-part burden-shifting test for determining whether a practice had an unjustified discriminatory effect.

At the time HUD issued the rule, the nonprofit Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. was embroiled in a lawsuit against the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, in which it brought a disparate impact claim under the FHA. After HUD issued the disparate impact rule, the Texas Department filed a petition for a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court on whether the FHA recognized disparate impact claims. In its 2015 decision, the Supreme Court held that disparate impact claims are cognizable under the FHA, but the Court articulated a rigorous standard for a successful claim. The Court did not explicitly address the merits of HUD’s rule, nor did the rule form the basis of its holding.  Continue Reading HUD Seeks Public Comment on Disparate Impact Rule

 

On May 8, 2018, the United States Department of Justice and KleinBank reached a settlement agreement resolving allegations that the bank engaged in mortgage lending discrimination by failing to adequately serve predominantly minority neighborhoods (so-called “redlining”) in and around the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. The settlement resolves one of the only redlining investigations to ever land in court, and marks the Trump DOJ’s first fair lending settlement.

DOJ filed its complaint against KleinBank on January 13, 2017, one week before the inauguration of President Trump, suggesting that the Obama administration’s DOJ may have been concerned that the Trump administration would be disinclined to pursue fair lending cases aggressively. Given recent activities at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, this worry may have been well-founded.

The complaint alleges that, from 2010 until at least 2015, KleinBank intentionally avoided lending to residents of predominantly minority neighborhoods in the Twin Cities area because of the race or national origin of the residents of those neighborhoods. Specifically, the DOJ alleged that KleinBank carved majority-minority census tracts out of its Community Reinvestment Act assessment area, located its branch and mortgage loan officers in majority-white census tracts (and not majority-minority census tracts), and directed marketing and advertising predominantly toward residents in majority-white census tracts. While most targets of redlining claims have sought to settle the allegations in short order, KleinBank took the rare step of fighting the DOJ’s claims in litigation.

Prior to the settlement, on March 30, 2018, the district court handling the case adopted a magistrate’s recommendation that KleinBank’s motion to dismiss be denied. The magistrate’s report and recommendation are under seal, making it impossible to fully analyze the rationale underlying the decision. However, the court noted that contrary to KleinBank’s contention, the government had sufficiently plead the intent element of a disparate treatment claim by, among other things, alleging that the bank intentionally drew its assessment area to avoid minority areas and intentionally avoided marketing to such areas.

Under the settlement agreement, KleinBank is required to open (and operate for at least three years) one new full-service branch office in a majority-minority census tract. Redlining resolutions that require banks to open branch offices are noteworthy considering the rapid increase in online banking activities and the cost associated with opening a full service branch.

The settlement agreement also requires KleinBank to invest $300,000 through a special purpose credit program to increase the amount of credit it extends in minority neighborhoods. Further, the bank must invest another $300,000 in advertising, outreach, financial education, and credit repair in order to “assist in establishing a presence in majority-minority census tracts in Hennepin County.

A few aspects of this agreement stand out. First, the DOJ’s use of a settlement agreement rather than a consent decree is notable. Most DOJ cases are resolved using consent decrees, which are generally easier for the government to enforce. Second, many of the settlement agreement provisions are less onerous than the terms of other recent redlining settlements. For example, the agreement does not subject KleinBank to a civil money penalty, and provides for flexibility on the timing of the bank’s advertising and loan subsidy obligations.  This suggests that the Trump DOJ may be taking a more subdued approach to fair lending cases than did its predecessor.

Time will tell if the KleinBank settlement is a red herring or harbinger for more federal fair lending enforcement.

On May 8, 2018, the House of Representatives used the Congressional Review Act (“CRA”) to vote to repeal the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB’s) March 2013 bulletin addressing indirect auto lending and compliance with the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (“ECOA”). That vote follows the Senate’s April 18 CRA vote to repeal the bulletin. President Trump is expected to sign the joint resolution (S.J. Res. 57) within 10 days.

In that bulletin, the CFPB (under the leadership of former director Richard Cordray) had stated that some indirect auto lenders may be subject to ECOA and Regulation B, and advised them to “take steps to ensure that they are operating in compliance” with those antidiscrimination principles. Most significantly, the bulletin noted that indirect auto lenders may have direct liability under ECOA for allegedly discriminatory pricing disparities. In an indirect auto lending arrangement, instead of providing financing directly to the consumer, the auto dealer facilitates financing through a third party. The CFPB bulletin stated that some indirect auto lenders have policies that allow dealers to mark up lender-established rates and then compensate dealers for those markups, which may result in pricing disparities on a basis prohibited under ECOA.

As explained in a prior Mayer Brown Legal Update, the CRA allows Congress to pass a resolution of disapproval of an agency rule within 60 legislative session days of the rule’s publication. Such a resolution, if passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President (or passed by a two-thirds majority in both houses to overcome a presidential veto), invalidates the rule. The CRA allows Congress to use expedited procedures that effectively prohibit filibusters in the Senate.

The 60-day clock for introduction of a disapproval resolution in Congress begins on the “submission or publication” date of the rule, which the CRA defines as the later of the date on which Congress receives the agency’s report related to the rule or the date the rule is published in the Federal Register, if it is published. Although the CFPB issued its indirect auto lending bulletin more than 60 days ago, the CFPB did not submit to Congress a report on the bulletin or publish it in the Federal Register, so arguably the 60-day clock did not begin in 2013.

Upon signing this resolution, President Trump will have used the CRA to invalidate 16 agency rules. Prior to the Trump administration, the CRA had been used only once to invalidate a rule. However, this resolution marks the first time Congress has used the CRA to invalidate agency guidance. Previously, Congress had used the CRA only to repeal rules that the respective agencies viewed as legislative rules or regulations subject to the Administrative Procedure Act’s notice-and-comment requirements. Unlike those legislative rules, the CFPB’s indirect auto lending bulletin is informal guidance that, as the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) concluded, “offers clarity and guidance on the Bureau’s discretionary enforcement approach.” Nonetheless, the GAO found that the CFPB bulletin qualifies as a “rule” subject to the CRA. The GAO has responded to requests from members of Congress to opine on the status of agency issuances by consistently noting that the scope of the definition of a rule under the CRA is broad. In a 2012 letter, the GAO explained that the “definition of a rule has been said to include ‘nearly every statement an agency may make.’”

If the CRA is available to Congress to invalidate agencies’ non-rule guidance that was not reported to Congress or published in the Federal Register, it is unclear what, if any, timing boundaries apply. This novel approach could implicate a large swath of informal agency guidance issued since the CRA’s passage. Further, a CRA disapproval extends beyond the rule (or non-rule guidance) itself, and prohibits the agency from issuing any rule that is “substantially the same” as the invalidated rule, absent subsequent statutory authorization.

It is unclear, however, what this means in the context of agency guidance. If agency guidance is an interpretation of existing statutes and regulations, and Congress repeals only the guidance/interpretation, but not the existing statutes (or regulations, if applicable), it is possible that an agency could simply attempt to return to its initial stance (for instance, a CFPB director could possibly refocus on indirect auto lenders, using an approach similar to that announced in the CFPB’s 2013 bulletin). Certainly, the actions of Congress under the CRA do not protect entities from scrutiny by the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, or the states, which also have enforcement authority under ECOA, or from private plaintiffs, who have a cause of action.

In any event, Congress definitely has clarified that it is willing to use the CRA to invalidate both agency regulations and informal guidance, and it remains to be seen which additional Obama-era regulations or guidance documents may be the CRA’s next victim.

Since the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s inception in 2011, the Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity (Office of Fair Lending) has been a powerful force within the agency. This week, Acting Director Mick Mulvaney announced that the Office of Fair Lending will be transferred from where it currently resides – in the Division of Supervision, Enforcement, and Fair Lending (SEFL) – to the Office of the Director, where it will become part of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Fairness. Despite the similar nomenclature, the priorities of the Office of Fair Lending and the Office of Equal Opportunity and Fairness are vastly different, with the latter having oversight over equal employment opportunity and diversity and inclusion initiatives within the CFPB. The move likely signals a substantial curtailment of CFPB fair lending enforcement activities.

Section 1013 of the Dodd-Frank Act mandated the establishment of an Office of Fair Lending and the statutory language provides that the Office of Fair Lending “shall have such powers and duties as the Director may delegate to the Office, including”:

  • Providing oversight and enforcement of federal fair lending laws (including ECOA and HMDA);
  • Coordinating fair lending efforts with other federal agencies and state regulators;
  • Working with the private industry and consumer advocates on the promotion of fair lending compliance and education; and
  • Providing annual reports to Congress on the Bureau’s efforts to fulfill its fair lending mandate.

The CFPB to date had in fact given the Office of Fair Lending the powers and duties listed in the statute, and Office of Fair Lending attorneys played a substantial role in overseeing fair lending examinations and bringing fair lending enforcement actions. Indeed, the Office of Fair Lending has come under fire for “regulation through enforcement” and for “pushing the envelope” through its aggressive enforcement of federal anti-discrimination statutes against lenders on the basis of statistical analyses (i.e., dealer markup and redlining). It is clear that, as a result of the restructuring, the Office of Fair Lending will no longer have supervisory or enforcement responsibilities. According to an email sent by Mulvaney to CFPB staff that was leaked to several news outlets, the Office of Fair Lending’s new focus will be on advocacy, coordination, and education. Although SEFL as a whole still maintains responsibility for fair lending supervisory and enforcement matters, this restructuring signals a de-emphasis on fair lending and likely will lead to a significant decrease in the number of fair lending examinations, investigations and enforcement actions brought by the Bureau. Indeed, Congress presumably required the establishment of a separate fair lending office out of recognition that having such an office would ensure a persistent attention to fair lending issues. Stripping the office of supervisory and enforcement responsibilities will similarly result in less of a focus on those issues. While SEFL leadership and staff are likely to continue to pursue fair lending matters, those matters will now compete for attention and resources with the myriad other issues over which the CFPB has jurisdiction.

In its Fair Lending Report released last year, the Bureau’s then-Director Cordray touted its “historic resolution of the largest redlining, auto finance, and credit card fair lending cases.” Cordray also identified redlining, mortgage loan servicing, student loan servicing, and small business lending as the Bureau’s fair lending priorities going forward. Under the Bureau’s new leadership, fair lending issues evidently will no longer be a top priority. With the rollback in the CFPB’s fair lending enforcement activities, there may be an uptick in consumer advocacy groups seeking other avenues for fair lending relief, such as class action litigation and complaints filed with HUD and state agencies tasked with enforcing state anti-discrimination laws.

Yesterday, the CFPB issued two HMDA-related items – a final rule amending federal Regulation B’s information collection provisions and a proposed policy document addressing which HMDA data fields the Bureau intends to make public beginning in 2019.

The Regulation B amendment is intended to facilitate compliance with the new version of Regulation C going into effect on January 1, 2018.   The final rule provides creditors with flexibility in complying with Regulation B’s information collection requirements and restrictions for certain dwelling-secured loans. This will allow lenders to use uniform information-gathering practices and consistent forms without running afoul with Regulation B, even when their loan volume or other circumstances exempts them from data collection and reporting under Regulation C.  The final rule can be found here.

The policy guidance document sets out how the CFPB proposes to balance the competing goals of making HMDA data available to the public while also protecting loan applicant privacy. The Bureau believes that public disclosure of HMDA data is critical to advancing HMDA’s goals, including the identification of possible lending discrimination.  On the other hand, there is a risk that the expanded list of HMDA fields that will be collected next year under amended Regulation C could reveal loan applicants’ identities and other personal information.  The CFPB therefore proposes to exclude certain fields from public disclosure and to modify certain others so they are less specific.  The proposed guidance can be found here. The Bureau will accept comments on the proposal for 60 following its publication in the Federal Register.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) has issued its first No-Action Letter (“No-Action Letter” or “Letter”) in response to a request from Upstart Network, Inc. (“Upstart”). The No-Action Letter means that CFPB staff currently has no intention of recommending enforcement or supervisory action against Upstart. This decision is limited to the application of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (“ECOA”) and its implementing regulation, Regulation B, to Upstart’s automated model for underwriting applicants for unsecured, non-revolving credit (“automated model”).

Upstart is an online lending platform that, working with a bank partner, uses alternative data to facilitate credit and pricing decisions for consumers with limited credit or work history. In addition to relying on traditional credit information, Upstart uses non-traditional sources of information to evaluate a consumer’s creditworthiness. For instance, Upstart might look at an applicant’s educational information, such as school attended and degree obtained, and the applicant’s employment to determine financial capacity and ability to repay. Upstart submitted a Request for No-Action Letter (“Request”) in relation to its automated model to the CFPB pursuant to the agency’s no-action letter policy.

According to the CFPB, the no-action letter policy is intended to facilitate consumer-friendly innovations where regulatory uncertainty may exist for certain emerging products or services. In practice, however, the process has presented significant challenges for companies that might seek to benefit from it. Continue Reading CFPB Issues No-Action Letter to Alternative Credit Lending Platform

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) announced a Request for Information (“RFI”) about alternative data on February 16, 2017, seeking insights into the benefits and risks of using unconventional financial data in assessing a consumer’s creditworthiness. On the same day, the CFPB held a hearing in Charleston, West Virginia, inviting consumer groups, industry representatives, and others to comment on the use of alternative data.

The CFPB estimates that 45 million Americans have difficulty getting a loan under traditional underwriting criteria, because they do not have a sufficient credit history. According to the CFPB, the use of alternative data may support those Americans’ creditworthiness and allow them better access to financing at more affordable rates. Alternative data includes sources such as timely payment of rent, utilities, or medical bills, as well as bank deposit records, and even internet searches or social media information—data that credit bureaus do not traditionally consider. However, a consumer who lacks a credit history but who makes timely rent and utility payments may be as likely to repay a loan as another consumer with a higher credit score. Continue Reading CFPB Calls for Comment on Alternative Data

On Friday, January 13, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) filed a lawsuit against a Minnesota bank in which it alleged that the bank violated the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act by unlawfully redlining in the Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington metropolitan statistical area (“Minneapolis MSA”).  The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, claims that from 2010 to at least 2015, the bank purposely avoided serving the credit needs of residents in majority-minority neighborhoods while meeting the credit needs of residents in majority-white neighborhoods.  The DOJ is seeking damages for aggrieved persons, civil money penalties, and injunctive relief. The bank has chosen to litigate, rather than settle, as it believes the DOJ’s claim is baseless. Continue Reading Redlining Revelations: DOJ Lawsuit Alleges Discriminatory Practices by Bank

It appears that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) controversial indirect auto initiative may be over.  Before the holidays, the CFPB issued a blog post setting forth its fair lending priorities for 2017.  It identified those priorities as Redlining, Mortgage and Student Loan Servicing, and Small Business Lending.  Not only was indirect auto lending not listed, but the CFPB appeared to go out of its way to indicate it was moving away from this issue.   Continue Reading Is the CFPB’s Indirect Auto Initiative Over?

Several of Mayer Brown’s Consumer Financial Services partners will be featured at this month’s Regulatory Compliance Conference in Washington, DC, sponsored by the Mortgage Bankers Association.

On Sunday, September 18th, Kris Kully will participate in the Compliance Essentials Workshop outlining how the Dodd Frank Act changed the regulatory framework for mortgages.  This panel will be useful for attendees looking for an introduction or refresher course in mortgage origination compliance, and those seeking MBA certification.

Also on Sunday the 18th, Krista Cooley will participate on the Servicing Essentials panel, which will include a discussion of the latest updates to the CFPB’s servicing rules, the TCPA, and the FDCPA.

Melanie Brody will participate on a Sunday panel addressing fair lending and HMDA.

Phil Schulman will participate on a panel on Monday, September 19th, discussing how the CFPB’s views affect marketing and advertising campaigns under RESPA. If the Circuit Court releases its opinion in the PHH case before the Conference, Phil will discuss how the court’s opinion will affect future RESPA compliance.

We look forward to seeing you there!