CHICAGO — A U.S. district judge has allowed an African-American woman to pursue claims of discrimination against Texas-based Santander Consumer USA, but the finance source was successful in getting other claims contained in the borrower’s class action suit dismissed.
Joyce Pettye claimed she was duped into buying “void and worthless” GAP coverage on a vehicle she purchased last year. She then sued Santander for purchasing the retail installment sales contract, claiming the finance source violated the Illinois Motor Vehicle Retail Installment Sales Act and the federal Truth in Lending Act when it purchased the retail installment sales contact (RISC).
Pettye then amended her complaint this past November, charging Santander with violating the Equal Credit Opportunity Act for engaging in the “discriminatory practice of encouraging dealers to aggressively market add-ons and interest rate markups after approving the deal at the buy rate when selling vehicles to African-American women.”
Santander moved to dismiss the amended complaint. But on Feb. 23, U.S. District Court Judge Amy J. St. Eve granted dismissal of Pettye’s original Truth in Lending charges.
On March 5, 2015, Pettye purchased a 2012 Ford Focus at Al Piemonte Super Car Outlet in Northlake, Ill., for $13,000. According to court documents, she agreed to finance her purchase and pay $385 per month for 72 months at an interest rate of 27.06%. Including taxes, finance charges and fees, that brought the total price to $29,785.
Included in the “amount financed” section of the RISC she signed was an $895 charge for GAP, which Pettye claimed was never disclosed. If it had, she said, she would never have purchased the coverage, which she later discovered was void and useless because her interest rate exceeded the program’s 24% annual percentage rate cap.
In her decision, St. Eve wrote that Santander’s liability under the TILA was limited because it was not the originator of the agreement. She noted that Pettye’s charge that she was sold voided GAP coverage was a matter of contract law, not the TILA.
St. Eve ultimately dismissed the TILA claim because on the face of the GAP ADDENDUM Pettye signed was an all-capital-letter, standalone paragraph that stated the price of the coverage, that the coverage was voluntary and not required to receive financing. It also stated that by signing, Pettye would be agreeing to the coverage.
Pettye’s claim that Santander violated the Illinois Motor Vehicle Retail Installment Sales Act was also dismissed because it was contingent on the suit’s TILA claim. The judge, however, denied Santander’s motion to dismiss Pettye’s claim of disparate impact discrimination under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.
According to court documents, Pettye’s attorney used statistics to argue that instances where specific pricing and markup policies involving services such as GAP occurred more often with African-American women than with white consumers. He further alleged that “the disparities between the terms of the credit transactions involving African-American women and the terms involving white consumers, and white men specifically, could not have occurred by chance and cannot be explained by factors unrelated to race and gender.”
St. Eve ruled that the plaintiff provided enough evidence to support her discrimination charge and denied Santander’s motion to dismiss the claim.