Record-Breaking Countrywide Settlement Highlights Rising Exposures of US Businesses To Discrimination Prosecution

The Obama Administration sent another sharp reminder to U.S. businesses about their growing exposure to prosecution for illegal discrimination practices when it filed its largest residential fair lending settlement in history this week.

The latest in a stream of discrimination enforcement actions taken by the Obama Administration against U.S. businesses for alleged violations of U.S. civil rights and other discrimination laws, the settlement agreement announced December 21, 2011 provides for payment of $335 million in compensation to the more than 200,000 qualified African-American and Hispanic borrowers that Federal officials allege were victims of the widespread pattern or practice of illegal discrimination against qualified African-American and Hispanic borrowers by Countrywide Financial Corporation and its subsidiaries (Countrywide) while Countrywide served as one of the nation’s largest single-family mortgage lenders and originated more than 4 million residential mortgage loans.  Bank of America now owns Countrywide.

Countrywide Settlement

Federal officials charged Countrywide engaged in discriminatory mortgage lending practices against more than 200,000 qualified African-American and Hispanic borrowers from 2004 through 2008.  The Justice Department claimed it uncovered a pattern or practice of discrimination involving victims in more than 180 geographic markets across 41 states and the District of Columbia. These discriminatory acts allegedly included widespread violations of the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, and resulted in African-American and Hispanic borrowers being charged higher rates for mortgage loans – solely because of their race or national origin.

According to Attorney General Eric Holder, today’s settlement will compensate the more than 200,000 African-American and Hispanic borrowers who were victims of discriminatory conduct, including more than 10,000 African-American or Hispanic borrowers who – despite the fact that they qualified for prime loans – were steered into subprime loans. Subprime borrowers pay higher penalties and higher interest rates, have a greater likelihood of default and foreclosure than with prime loans, and other damages.

When announcing the settlement, Attorney General Holder reaffirmed the Obama Administration’s commitment to finding and prosecuting businesses that engage in illegal discriminatory practices.  To read Attorney General Eric Holder’s remarks, click here.

Discrimination Obama Administration Priority

Enforcing disability discrimination laws is a high priority of the Obama Administration Business leaders increasingly recognize the need to tighten procedures to manage disability discrimination risks.  

The Countrywide settlement joins a lengthy list of settlements and other actions by the Obama Administration against businesses and government entities for alleged violations of U.S. civil rights and other nondiscrimination laws.  See, e.g. New Obama Administration Affirmative Action Guidance Highlights Organization’s Need To Tighten Nondiscrimination Practices; OFCCP Proposed Increased Disability Hiring Targets, Other Tougher Government Contractor Rules another Sign Of Rising Employment Discrimination RisksIncentives To Get Employee Into Wellness Education Requires Legal Risk Management; New School Racial Accommodation Guidance Gives Important Insights For Schools & Other Organizations On Obama Administration Affirmative Action Enforcement; Justice Department Landlord Suit Shows Businesses Face Rising Disability Discrimination Enforcement Risks.

These regulatory, audit, enforcement and other actions show that private businesses and state and local government agencies alike should exercise special care to prepare to defend their actions against potential disability or other Civil Rights discrimination challenges.  All organizations, whether public or private need to make sure both that their organizations, their policies, and people in form and in action understand and comply with current disability and other nondiscrimination laws.  When reviewing these responsibilities, many state and local governments and private businesses may need to update their understanding of current requirements.

Because the scope and applicability of disability and various other federal nondiscrimination and other laws have been expanded or modified in recent years by statutory, regulatory or enforcement changes, risk management efforts should begin with an assessment of the adequacy of existing policies and practices in light of the latest rules and enforcement actions.  Based on this assessment, business and governmental organizations should update policies and procedures as required, tighten documentation, and conduct ongoing, well-documented audits and training to mitigate exposures. 

For Help With Compliance, Risk Management & Defense

If you need help in auditing or assessing, updating or defending your organization’s compliance, risk manage or other  internal controls practices or actions, please contact the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer here or at (469)767-8872.

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, management attorney and consultant Ms. Stamer is nationally and internationally recognized for more than 24 years of work helping employers and other management; employee benefit plans and their sponsors, administrators, fiduciaries; employee leasing, recruiting, staffing and other professional employment organizations; and others design, administer and defend innovative workforce, compensation, employee benefit  and management policies and practices. Her experience includes extensive work helping employers carry out, audit, manage and defend union-management relations, wage and hour, discrimination and other labor and employment laws, privacy and data security, internal investigation and discipline and other workforce and internal controls policies, procedures and actions.  The Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, a Council Representative on the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Government Affairs Committee Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer works, publishes and speaks extensively on management, re-engineering, investigations, human resources and workforce, employee benefits, compensation, internal controls and risk management, federal sentencing guideline and other enforcement resolution actions, and related matters.  She also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on these and other human resources concerns and regularly speaks and conducts training on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other national and local publications. For more information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to get access to other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources at  Examples of recent updates that may be of interest include:

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©2011 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.

About Cynthia Marcotte Stamer

Management attorney and operations consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer uses a client objective oriented approach to help businesses, governments, associations and their leaders manage people, performance, risk, legislative and regulatory affairs, data, and other essential elements of their operations.
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