A lawsuit filed by the city of Philadelphia against Wells Fargo alleging the bank engaged in discriminatory mortgage-lending practices against black and Latino residents of the city has been allowed to proceed.
U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania denied Wells Fargo’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit and also denied the bank’s motion to stay and/or limit discovery.
The city claimed Wells Fargo’s alleged practices amount to “reverse red-lining,” meaning that the bank exploits minorities and their communities with high-cost loans with worse terms than those offered to similarly-situated white borrowers.
“Publicly available loan data has been analyzed by the city to indicate the existence of ‘at least 1,067 discriminatory high-cost or high-risk loans issued to minority borrowers by Wells Fargo in Philadelphia between 2004 and 2014 that resulted in foreclosure,’” according to Brody’s opinion. “These loans are concentrated in areas of the city that have high rates of poverty and significant African-American and Latino populations.”
The city argued that Wells Fargo’s alleged conduct negatively impacts minorities’ ability to own homes in Philadelphia, which also leads to an increase in foreclosures that cut the city’s tax revenues and hikes spending on municipal services. The city sought an injunction against Wells Fargo.
Wells Fargo argued that the lawsuit should be tossed for a number of reasons, including that the city’s claim is identical to one already litigated and settled between the bank and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.
Brody said the bank’s argument failed because there was no evidence that the settlement with the PHRC benefited the city of Philadelphia, let alone a relationship between the two for the purposes of litigation.
“The mention of the settlement in the complaint and the mere existence of the settlement itself fail to show privity because neither necessarily indicates a close relationship between the city and the PHRC,” Brody said. “Thus, Wells Fargo cannot meet its burden of proving res judicata at this stage of the litigation.”
Wells Fargo also argued that the city’s claims weren’t filed in time and the statute of limitations had run.
“For Wells Fargo to succeed in its statute of limitations argument, it must show that the city fails to allege any violative conduct after Sept. 23, 2014. The city does, in fact, allege six discriminatory loans after that date, and there is nothing on the face of the complaint to indicate the city’s claims are time barred. Therefore, the city properly alleges a continuing violation, and Wells Fargo’s statute of limitation argument fails at this stage.” Overall, Brody said that the city provided enough evidence at the early stage of the case that Wells Fargo’s alleged activities hurt the Philadelphia’s goal of promoting fair housing.
“The city has alleged a statistically significant relationship between a borrower’s race and receiving a high-risk or high-cost loan from Wells Fargo, and the mere existence of discriminatory lending causes harm to the city’s goal of promoting fair housing and integrated communities,” Brody said.
Of Brody’s decision, city spokesperson Mike Dunn said in an email, “The city is gratified by the court’s decision and looks forward to developing further evidence of Wells Fargo’s alleged discriminatory practices.”
Tom Goyda, a spokesman for Wells Fargo, said in an email, “The court’s decision to allow the lawsuit to proceed, while disappointing, in no way suggests that the claims ultimately will prevail. Wells Fargo has been a part of the Philadelphia community for more than 140 years and we are prepared to defend our record as a fair and responsible lender.”