(Bloomberg) — A Black loan underwriter who said he was fired due to racism alleges that U.S. Bancorp engaged in redlining — discriminating against people of color when lending.
John Span also claims in a lawsuit that he endured a “toxic and racially hostile work environment” during his time in the firm’s indirect auto-lending group. In the complaint, filed in Illinois federal court earlier this month, Span alleges that discriminatory practices and targeted harassment eventually led to his ouster.
It comes weeks after Attorney General Merrick Garland announced an initiative targeting redlining and promised more investigations into the practice. The action arrives amid heightened public awareness of racial inequity and as banks reckon with inequality and diversity.
“This is a case where we find a major bank in the United States equating risk with race, and that story has been going on for 90 years in this country,” Haskell Garfinkel, founding partner of Chicago-based law firm Garfinkel Group and one of Span’s lawyers, said in a phone interview.
In a statement, U.S. Bancorp said it “does not condone discrimination of any kind in the workplace or against customers.”
“We take these accusations and matters very seriously,” the bank said. “We deny that we acted in a discriminatory way against the plaintiff or our customers and will vigorously defend the company in court.”
Since the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, where the lender is based, the firm has pledged millions to address social and economic inequality and established a program intended to help build Black wealth.
Span says in the complaint that other employees would go out of their way to avoid underwriting or approving loans for individuals who lived in “minority neighborhoods or neighborhoods with a ‘bad’ reputation,” as well as applicants who had “non-white names.”
According to the complaint, Span worked as an underwriter focused on a region that included Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. He alleges that the unit responsible for providing auto financing through car dealerships harbored an “openly racist environment.”
One colleague would repeatedly make offensive comments to Span based on his race, while another would make racist jokes and use a racist term “to and in front of Span,” according to the filing. Span alleges that he was the only Black underwriter assigned to his region.
Span was eventually assigned to handle loans in South Chicago and its suburbs — an area avoided by other underwriters as part of a more widespread practice described in the complaint as a “racist loan application hot potato.” Garfinkel said that it was Span’s understanding that this discrimination occurred nationwide.
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