The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) seeking comment on whether its 2013 Disparate Impact Rule (Rule) should be revised in light of the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc.
On July 19, 2018, from 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. ET, Ballard Spahr attorneys will hold a webinar, “HUD’s Reconsideration of its Disparate Impact Rule: Background, Analysis and Potential Implications.” Click here to register.
The ANPR provides an important opportunity for the mortgage industry and other interested parties to address whether the Rule reflects the limitations outlined by the Supreme Court in Inclusive Communities and other concerns with the Rule. Comments on the ANPR must be filed by August 20, 2018.
The Rule provides that liability may be established under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) based on a practice’s discriminatory effect (i.e., disparate impact) even if the practice was not motivated by a discriminatory intent, and that a challenged practice may still be lawful if supported by a legally sufficient justification. Under the Rule, a practice has a discriminatory effect where it actually or predictably results in a disparate impact on a group of persons or creates, increases, reinforces, or perpetuates segregated housing patterns because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin. The Rule also addresses what constitutes a legally sufficient justification for a practice, and the burdens of proof of the parties in a case asserting that a practice has a discriminatory effect under the FHA.
While the Supreme Court held in Inclusive Communities that disparate impact claims may be brought under the FHA, it also set forth limitations on such claims that “are necessary to protect potential defendants against abusive disparate impact claims.” In particular, the Supreme Court indicated that a disparate impact claim based upon a statistical disparity “must fail if the plaintiff cannot point to a defendant’s policy or policies causing that disparity” and that a “robust causality requirement” ensures that a mere racial imbalance, standing alone, does not establish a prima facie case of disparate impact, thereby protecting defendants “from being held liable for racial disparities they did not create.” Significantly, while Inclusive Communities held that liability may be established under the FHA based on disparate impact, the district court subsequently dismissed the disparate impact claim against the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs based on the limitations on such claims prescribed by the Supreme Court in its opinion.
In the ANPR, HUD notes that in response to a notice it published in the Federal Register in May 2017 inviting comments to assist HUD’s identification of outdated, ineffective, or excessively burdensome regulations, it received numerous comments both critical and supportive of the Rule and taking opposing positions on whether the Rule is inconsistent with Inclusive Communities. HUD also notes that in a report issued in October 2017, the Treasury Department recommended that HUD reconsider applications of the Rule, particularly in the context of the insurance industry. (We have previously reported on a challenge to the Rule by the American Insurance Association and National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies in D.C. federal district court.)
The ANPR contains a list of 6 questions of particular interest to HUD. Issues addressed in the questions include the Rule’s: burden of proof standard and burden-shifting framework; the definition of “discriminatory effect” as it relates to the burden of proof for stating a prima facie case; and the causality standard for stating a prima facie case.
Although Inclusive Communities did not resolve the question of whether disparate impact claims are cognizable under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA), HUD’s approach to the Rule could have significance for ECOA disparate impact claims. Recent comments by CFPB Acting Director Mick Mulvaney that the CFPB plans to reexamine ECOA requirements in light of Inclusive Communities suggest that the CFPB might review references to the effects test in Regulation B (which implements the ECOA) and the Regulation B Commentary. In doing so, the CFPB might consider not only whether such references should be eliminated but also, if they are retained, what safeguards should apply. As a result, changes to the Rule made by the FHA could impact the CFPB’s approach to ECOA liability.