Fair Access to Financial Services Act introduced in the US to Outlaw Bank Discrimination
A legislation has been introduced by the Democrats in the Congress that would make discrimination by banks and other financial firms against their customers on the grounds of their race, religion, sexual orientation and other characteristics illegal.
Currently, banks and some other businesses treating some customers differently is considered legal and does not attract any penalty as long as the banks are rendering services to such customers. Banks can racially profile their customers and delay their transactions, or ask them to take extra steps to prove their legitimacy, without risking penalties as long as they eventually do business with those customers.
The Fair Access to Financial Services Act, introduced by members of the Senate Banking Committee, would explicitly outlaw discrimination against bank customers.
The loophole stems from the specificity of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which lists the kinds of businesses — including movie theaters, restaurants and hotels — where discrimination is prohibited.
Courts have ruled that the law does not apply to any businesses not on the list. States like Georgia do not have state-wide anti-discrimination laws.
The bill stipulates that "all persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges and accommodations of financial institutions." It is sponsored by Senators Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Tina Smith of Minnesota, Cory Booker and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.
The bill was drafted after there were reports about the ways in which Black bank customers were treated with suspicion and hostility while trying to do basic banking business.
While seeking justice, customers experiencing discrimination can rely only on state protections because of the loophole in federal law.
According to the bill, bank customers experiencing discrimination can ask a federal court to order the bank or financial institution to cease the mistreatment and recoup lawyers' fees from the institution if the court rules in their favor.
"Our legislation would be a clear and comprehensive statement that discrimination has no place in our financial system," Senator Smith said in the announcement.
The bill has been endorsed by civil rights groups like the N.A.A.C.P., Unidos US and the National Urban League, according to the announcement.
Further, two Democrats in the House, Representatives Hank Johnson of Georgia and Joyce Beatty of Ohio, will introduce a complementary bill, according to the Senate announcement.