<a href="page10.htm"></a>New England Fleet subsidiary in hot water over unfair lending practices, settles case for $113,500

Fleet Financial Group will pay $133,500 including attorneys' fees in yet another settlement of complaints that one of its subsidiaries violated fair housing and fair lending laws. Last year, Fleet paid $4 million to settle Justice Department complaint s in New York and New Jersey (see June 1996 Advocate). This time the complaints came against Shawmut Bank and Shawmut Mortgage Corporation. Fleet purchased Shawmut after complaints were filed by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law of the Boston Bar Association. The settlement was reached after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) received the complaint but before HUD launched an investigation.

According to Barbara Wurtzel Rabin, one of the LCCR attorneys who handled the case, mortgage testing conducted against Shawmut in Boston, Massachusetts and Providence, Rhode Island showed that African-Americans experienced less favorable treatment than whites about 60 percent of the time. The tests were designed to be in the pre-application stage. Testers were simply making inquiries and were not filling out loan applications. Therefore, the tests, according to Rabin, could only detect discrimination "already visible at the starting gate."

In April 1994, Alvin Smith (a pseudonym), an African-American tester, visited Shawmut Bank four days after his white counterpart who had similar income, savings, and debts. Both testers were inquiring about mortgages in different areas of Boston. William Hitchcock, a Shawmut Mortgage Specialist, kept Smith waiting for nearly an hour before he spoke to him. The wait was despite the fact that Smith had made an appointment to see Hitchcock several days earlier. When Hitchcock did finally meet Smith, he only spoke to him for a short period of time and did not answer any of Smith's questions about whether he qualified for a mortgage or what kinds of mortgages were available.

Hitchcock failed to ask Smith about his debts or income. Hitchcock estimated higher closing costs for Smith than were estimated for the white tester. He also said that the application process for Smith would take longer than that of the white tester. Smith said he felt as though his business was not wanted.

Another Shawmut loan officer gave a white tester a variety of materials, descriptions of several different loan products, detailed preapproval information, sample closing documents, a list of items necessary to complete an application, and a mortgage affordability worksheet based on his financial profile. Smith did not receive any of these services. He was given a business card and told to call back if he had any questions.

In February 1994, two testers went to Shawmut with inquiries about mortgages in Providence. Both had similar income and debt characteristics. The white tester was told that she did qualify for a mortgage, that a small flaw in her credit was not a problem, that she would not have to pay for Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) after she gained 20 percent equity in her house, that she might reduce closing costs by having her attorney do the title search, and that it would take about 48 hours to get her application approved. The African-American tester was not told how to reduce closing costs, was not told about the cancellation of PMI, was not told that her credit flaw would be "no problem," and was told that it would take three or four weeks to approve her application. The African-American tester also observed in a Shawmut newsletter, on display in the reception area, that Shawmut had just adopted a Fair Lending Mission Statement.

Several other tests in Boston and Providence provided evidence of racial discrimination. Rabin pointed out that African-American testers received inferior service at Shawmut and sometimes had difficulty even speaking with a loan officer. She also said that African-American testers received inferior treatment whether or not they pretended to be buying a home in a white neighborhood.