NEW YORK (AP) — The Department of Justice and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau fined Mississippi-based BancorpSouth $10.6 million, alleging the bank deliberately discriminated against minorities in its lending practices.
BancorpSouth, a medium-sized regional bank with $13.9 billion in assets and 239 branches in eight states, deliberately avoided building branches in minority neighborhoods in Memphis, Tennessee from at least 2011 to 2013.
The bank also denied more loans to African Americans and other minorities when compared to neighborhoods with smaller minority populations, the Justice Department and CFPB said Wednesday, and minorities who were approved for loans were given higher interest rates when compared to non-minorities.
While BancorpSouth is based in Tupelo, Mississippi, the case deals with BancorpSouth's presence in Memphis and stems from a 2014 investigation into BancorpSouth by the Justice Department and CFPB.
The bank had 22 branches in the Memphis area between 2011 and 2013, all of which were located outside neighborhoods with large minority populations. Maps provided by the regulators also showed nearly all BancorpSouth's loans originated outside minority neighborhoods of Memphis as well.
"BancorpSouth's discrimination throughout the mortgage lending process harmed the people who were overcharged or denied their dream of home ownership based on their race, and it harmed the Memphis minority neighborhoods that were redlined and denied equal access to affordable credit," said CFPB Director Richard Cordray in prepared remarks.
BancorpSouth during this period required its employees to treat applications based upon a potential borrower's race, color and national origin, according to the complaint filed in the case. Minority applicants were to be denied loans more quickly than white applicants, and minority applicants who were considered borderline for approval were denied based on race.
In a stark example of the discriminatory culture at BancorpSouth at the time, bank employees were audio-taped using racial epithets, followed by laughter, when discussing the possibility of hiring of an African-American employee, according to the documents released by Justice Department and CFPB.
The U.S. banking industry has such a long documented history of discriminating against minorities who want to borrow to the point there's a term to describe it: redlining.
The term stems from a time when banks would outline minority neighborhoods in red marker as places where loans were to be denied. The practice cut off entire neighborhoods to capital, and many housing experts blame redlining for why large minority neighborhoods decayed and slipped into poverty in the second half of the 20th century. It also cut off minorities from home ownership, one source of wealth generation for the U.S. middle class.
Even decades after the civil rights movement, banks are still regularly caught in redlining cases. The most recent example came in September 2015, when Hudson City Savings Bank agreed to pay $27 million to settle redlining allegations stemming from its operations in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. Three months before Hudson City Savings, Wisconsin-based Associated Bank agreed to finance $200 million in mortgages to minority populations to settle its redlining allegations.
If approved by the court, BancorpSouth Inc. will provide $4 million in direct loan subsidies in minority neighborhoods in Memphis, spend at least $800,000 on community programs and minority outreach, $2.78 million to African American customers who were overcharged or denied loans as well as a $3 million penalty.
In a statement, BancorpSouth said it has agreed to settle all claims against the bank, without admitting guilt, and that the bank had already addressed the discriminatory practices and recently hired an executive to do outreach in minority and other neighborhoods.
"BancorpSouth is dedicated to a culture of respect, diversity and inclusion in both our workplace and communities," said BancorpSouth Chairman and CEO James Rollins, in a statement. "We have a longstanding commitment to equal treatment and any form of discrimination will not be tolerated."
This story has been corrected to show that BancorpSouth Inc. has assets of $13.9 billion, not $10.6 billion.