On Veteran’s Day of 2016, Ernest Walker walked into a Chili’s with his service dog expecting to enjoy the free meal offered to all military veterans and service members. While Walker was eating, an elderly customer wearing a Trump t-shirt came up to him. Their conversation turned ugly when the man challenged Walker’s service record. The man said that “he was in Germany, and that they did not let Blacks serve over there.”
Soon after, Walker said the restaurant’s manager approached him and questioned his service credentials. Although Walker showed his military ID and discharge paperwork, the manager didn’t believe him and ended up taking his food away. Walker said that he’d never experienced treatment like that, labeled “as a Black man trying to steal food.”
S. Lee Merritt, Esq., a longtime leader and influential voice in the fight for Social Justice, took Mr. Walker’s case. He then worked diligently to ensure that the case put a spotlight on discrimination while extracting a just financial settlement for his client.
Discrimination Against Consumers
Consumers are not a protected class under the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in the way that the EEOC protects against discrimination on the basis of sex, race, religion, country of origin and age. But some laws still apply to consumers in certain situations.
For example, a department store issuing credit cannot charge a higher interest rate to a customer with a foreign accent. The U.S. has a fraught history with these types of discriminatory practices, and they have left a deep and lasting impact on U.S. consumers.
There isn’t a clean ending point for the kind of discrimination that Mr. Walker faced. After a local news program inadvertently revealed where Walker lives, anonymous threats forced him to leave his home. A shift manager’s discriminatory treatment created a platform for a more violent type of discrimination.
One consumer area where discrimination is rampant is in financial services. Have you ever felt like you’ve been wrongly vetoed from receiving a mortgage or loan? It might not just be your imagination — this type of discrimination has long been documented in the financial services field.
Banking discrimination can come in several forms:
- Denying credit, mortgages, home refinancing, and bank loans
- Considering the source of provably consistent income
- Considering your race, national origin, or sex in their loan decision. A creditor may consider your immigration status and whether you have the right to remain in the country long enough to repay the debt
- Imposing different terms or conditions based on an EEOC-protected class, such as a higher interest rate or larger down payment
- Factoring racial composition of your neighborhood into an appraisal
- Asking about your plans for having a family — although expenses related to your dependents are permitted
- Requiring a co-signer if you meet the lender’s standards
Types of Lending Discrimination
The FDIC recognizes three types of lending discrimination under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and the Fair Housing Act. They are:
- Overt discrimination — this is when a lender openly treats an applicant differently because of an EEOC-protected class
- Disparate treatment — this occurs when a lender treats an applicant differently based on one of the protected characteristics
- Disparate impact — this is when a lender applies a neutral policy to all credit applicants, but the policy disproportionately affects individuals belonging to a certain group based on their race, sex, age, or other protected characteristic
Diorama of lunch counter sit-down protests at the National Civil Rights Museum.
When to Consult with a Lawyer Experienced in Discrimination
S. Lee Merritt, Esq. is a lifer in this fight. He’s equally comfortable representing high-profile civil rights cases like that of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man recently shot and killed while jogging in Georgia, and cases with more of a local impact.
A dedicated civil rights activist and trial attorney, Mr. Merritt runs a distinguished national practice focusing on victims of police brutality, hate crimes, and corporate discrimination. As an activist, he has championed police reform and community empowerment. His office has led the way to reform in Texas, a state notorious for its failure to prosecute police officers, successfully advocating for the first murder indictments of officers in the state in over 40 years.