Title: Citibank Accused of Discrimination Against Armenian Americans, Faces Fines
In a shocking revelation, Citibank, one of the major issuers of store credit cards, has been accused by a federal regulator of engaging in illegal discriminatory practices against Armenian Americans. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) found that Citibank singled out credit card applicants based on their surnames, in violation of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.
According to the CFPB’s investigation, from 2015 to 2021, Citibank specifically “targeted” retail services credit card applicants associated with Armenian national origin. Armenian Americans were allegedly treated as potential criminals, facing more stringent criteria in their applications, including outright denials, account blocks, and requests for additional information.
The regulator’s findings revealed that Citibank focused on applicants with last names ending in “-ian” and “-yan,” as well as those in and around Glendale, California, a city with a significant Armenian American population.
To address these discriminatory practices, the CFPB has ordered Citibank to pay a staggering $25.9 million in fines and consumer redress. Out of this amount, a $24.5 million fine will go to the CFPB’s victims relief fund.
Citibank spokesperson Karen Kearns issued a statement expressing regret over the actions of a few employees, assuring that the bank has taken appropriate measures to prevent such incidents in the future.
However, it appears that supervisors at Citibank conspired to conceal the discrimination. They allegedly instructed employees not to discuss these practices in writing or on recorded phone lines, and even lied to consumers about the reasons for credit denials.
The alleged discrimination by Citibank has drawn criticism from various quarters. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has publicly supported the CFPB’s action against the bank, while consumer advocates are urging personal fines for individual bankers involved in the discrimination.
CFPB Director Rohit Chopra emphasized that immigrants from Armenia should not face illegal discrimination based on their national origin, highlighting the importance of upholding the principles of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.
This is not the first time Citibank has faced allegations of consumer financial protection law violations. The bank has paid fines in the past for violating the Truth in Lending Act and engaging in deceptive and unfair practices, particularly related to overcharging credit card customers.
As part of the ongoing scrutiny, Citibank CEO Jane Fraser is scheduled to testify before Congress on December 6 in a big bank oversight hearing. The allegations of discrimination against Armenian Americans will undoubtedly be a central focus of the hearing.
In response to the CFPB’s penalties against Citibank, Rep. Anna Eshoo, the only Armenian-Assyrian member of Congress, hailed it as a step towards justice. Meanwhile, Anthony Barsamian, co-chair of the Armenian Assembly of America, expressed shock and appallment over the alleged discrimination and is contemplating severing ties with the bank.
Citibank’s reputation hangs in the balance as it faces the consequences of its alleged discriminatory practices. The upcoming congressional hearing will shed further light on the matter and determine the bank’s accountability for its actions.
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