The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is ordering financial giant Citibank to shell out over a million dollars to potential customers who were racially profiled and treated like criminals.
In a press release, the CFPB says Citi violated the Equal Credit Opportunity Act by denying services to a group of people based on their heritage.
The agency says Citi discriminated against Armenian Americans between 2015 and 2021 when denying their applications for retail credit cards, treating them as if they would likely to commit fraud because of their roots.
“Citi treated Armenian Americans as criminals who were likely to commit fraud. From at least 2015 through 2021, Citi targeted retail services credit card applicants with surnames that Citi employees associated with Armenian national origin as well as applicants in or around Glendale, California.
The bank specifically targeted surnames ending in “-ian” and “-yan.” Nicknamed “Little Armenia,” Glendale is home to approximately 15% of the Armenian American population in the U.S.”
The CFBP says Citi employees received instructions from mid-level managers to recognize applicants of Armenian descent and use various means to turn down the application.
“When Citi identified credit card applicants as potentially being of Armenian national origin, the bank applied more stringent criteria to their applications, including denying them outright and requiring additional information or placing a block on the account.
Employees were instructed to avoid discussing the illegal discriminatory practice in writing or on recorded phone lines.”
Citi employees gave “fake reasons” for rejecting the applications of Armenian Americans, including blaming an applicant for the denial.
“At one point, a Citi employee explained it had been a while since they had denied an application because of a consumer’s Armenian surname, and wanted a suggestion on how to cover up the discrimination. The response was to decline the credit card application due to suspected credit abuse, which essentially blamed the applicant for the denial.”
For the bank’s discriminatory practice, CFPB is ordering Citi to pay $1.4 million to credit card applicants who were rejected due to national origin between January 1st, 2015 and December 31st, 2021 as well as a $24.5 million penalty.