Bellco CU Settles Alleged Discriminatory Housing Lawsuit
The $3.9 billion Bellco Credit Union said it decided to pay $50,000 to the Denver Metro Fair Housing Center to settle the organization’s lawsuit that alleged the Greenwood Village, Colo.-based cooperative discriminated against women on maternity leave by denying them mortgages.
Bellco said in a prepared statement its decision to offer the judgement agreement last month that DMFHC accepted was made for one reason: “To protect our members’ funds and not waste them proving our innocence in a frivolous lawsuit brought forth by an agency with a history of such actions, with no basis in actual fact. As the records show, no Bellco member ever applied for a loan that was denied based on any discriminatory action taken by Bellco employees.”
DMFHC did not respond to a CU Times message Tuesday seeking comment.
As part of the final judgement document filed in U.S. District Court in Denver on Sept. 29, Bellco is required to send annual notices to all Bellco employees for a period of three years, reminding them of the credit union’s policy of extending credit to qualified applicants who are on, or about to go on, maternity leave. The credit union also agreed to instruct all loan consultants that borrowers are encouraged to submit loan applications while on maternity leave before returning to work and that loan consultants shall not make any statements to potential applicants suggesting anything to the contrary.
According to the final judgement document, the credit union is also required to undergo annual mandatory fair housing training, provided by a third-party vendor, regarding sex and familial status discrimination, including maternity leave issues for the next three years.
Bellco also is required to include an equal housing opportunity statement with all of its mortgage loan ads for three years. The statement reads in part, “We encourage and support an affirmative advertising and marketing program in which there are no barriers to obtaining housing because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin.”
In its lawsuit, DMFHC said it conducted telephonic testing of several banks in the Denver area to determine if any were discriminating against women on maternity leave, which violates state and federal laws.
“The DMFHC’s testing revealed that Bellco maintains discriminatory policy of denying home mortgage loans to women on maternity leave, and requiring that a mother return to work for at least 30 days before Bellco will even consider her home mortgage loan application, regardless of whether the leave is paid or unpaid and regardless of whether she has liquid savings to compensate for any temporary salary reduction resulting from her maternity leave,” according to the lawsuit.
Between May and August 2016, the DMFHC said it conducted five telephone tests of Bellco to determine whether the credit union discriminated based on a would-be borrower’s maternity leave status. Each tester posed as a female who had a credit score in the mid-700s, a household income with two earners and adequate savings for a down payment. Each tester who spoke to a Bellco loan officer expressed interest in buying a home and asked basic questions about the credit union’s mortgage process, loan options and interest rates.
Two of the female testers said they were not on or about to go on maternity leave when they spoke with loan officers. Three of the testers said they were on maternity leave when they spoke with Bellco loan officers.
When the three testers who said they were on maternity leave revealed that information, three different Bellco loan officers told the testers that they would need to return to work in order to close on the home, according to the lawsuit.
In one example, the fourth tester reminded the Bellco loan officer that she was on paid maternity leave.
“He [the loan officer] responded that Bellco still would not consider her earnings until she had returned to work for a month because ‘[a] lot of people say they are going to go back to work and then they don’t so that is why we require that you actually are back at work in order to use your income,’” according to the lawsuit.
Despite these specific allegations, Bellco insisted it has never knowingly engaged in any discriminatory lending practices of any kind.