Oklahoman files maternity lawsuit against R.I. bank

  • Bank is charged with alleged discrimination

OKLAHOMA CITY – A northeastern Oklahoma woman has filed a lawsuit against a federal bank, alleging its “discriminatory and unlawful policies” treat women on maternity leave “different than other applicants” for credit.

Cecilia Slater, a resident of Copan, in Washington County north of Bartlesville and about 8 miles south of the Kansas state line, filed suit Aug. 13 in Tulsa’s Northern Oklahoma District federal court against Home Loan Investment Bank, alleging violation of the Fair Housing Act.

The bank is based in Rhode Island but conducts business in Oklahoma, “including accepting applications from and issuing credit to” Oklahoma residents.

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination by direct providers of housing – such as landlords, real estate companies, municipalities, banks or other lending institutions, and homeowner insurance companies – whose practices make housing unavailable to persons because of disability, race or color, religion, sex, national origin, or familial status.

On May 22, Mr. and Mrs. Slater sought to secure a $41,548 loan from Home Loan Investment Bank in order to finance improvements to their residence in Copan.

The lender informed the couple that because of Mr. Slater’s debt-to-income ratio, Mrs. Slater had to be added as an applicant for the loan “so that her income could be considered.” She submitted her pay information for 2018 and 2019, along with current paystubs.

After issuing a non-binding verbal approval, the bank’s underwriter noticed that Mrs. Slater was on maternity leave and the bank notified the couple that they couldn’t include her income “if she’s not currently working,” the lawsuit alleges.

The Slaters supplied documentation that Mrs. Slater had agreed to return to work after her maternity leave, and, “in accordance with Federal Law and company policy,” her employer “held her position for her” while she was on maternity leave and paid vacation time.

“In response,” the Slaters allege, “the bank stated, ‘The letter won’t help. I’m sorry.’”

Mrs. Slater continued to receive all of her usual pay from her employer while on maternity leave and offered to provide supporting documentation, “but the bank still asserted that such documentation was insufficient.”

The bank claimed it was unable to use her income “because the bank could not verify that she would return and that her employment would have to be guaranteed for the next two years,” the lawsuit petition alleges.

The Slaters, “growing frustrated, raised their concerns to the Lender that the bank’s actions seemed discriminatory,” and “sent an email to the Lender raising these concerns...”

In response, the Slaters charge, “the Lender stated, ‘because this is for [a] Title 2 loan it does not apply. My loan is a Title 1 loan. Sorry, we will have to wait” until Aug. 24.

Mr. Slater said he telephoned John Kupervich, vice president of home improvement lending at the bank, and lodged a complaint. “During this call, Mr. Kupervich stated, among other things, ‘Sometimes a woman has a baby and chooses not to return to work.’”

During that ’phone call, “Kupervich reiterated the requirements that the Slaters provide a letter from Mrs. Slater’s employer guaranteeing her employment for 24 months” after the birth of their child “or that Mrs. Slater go back to work early to allow them to be able to close the loan...”

In support of that policy, the lawsuit alleges, “Kupervich stated to the effect that ‘this is the way we have always done things.’”

Because of the bank’s “discriminatory policy,” Mrs. Slater alleges, she has suffered financial injury in a delay in obtaining financing, “resulting in lost opportunity and loss of use of the proposed home improvements which the loan was intended to support,” and unnecessary out-of-pocket expenses. She claims she also suffered “substantial emotional distress and interference” with her post-delivery recovery and time with her baby.

Mrs. Slater is seeking class-action status of her lawsuit on behalf of other women similarly situated: mothers and mothers-to-be who were on maternity leave at the time of the closing of a loan with that bank.

“There are questions of law and fact that are common to the members of the class, which questions predominate over any individual issues,” Mrs. Slater asserts. Also, pursuit of separate, individual lawsuits by members of the class “would result in the risk of inconsistent and varying adjudications.”

She also alleges that Home Loan Investment Bank has “engaged in similar conduct with the respect to the class so that final injunctive or declaratory relief is appropriate with respect to the class in its entirety.”

Her attorney, Lysbeth “Liz” George of Blanchard, said Tuesday that the Slaters intend to demonstrate – via the “discovery” process of litigation – that the bank treated other women in a manner similar to what Mrs. Slater allegedly experienced.

“We will be able to make document requests” after the bank responds with its answer to the Slater petition, Ms. George said.

The Slaters ask the court to:

• declare the bank’s alleged actions “to be in violation of” the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and the Fair Housing Act;

• order the bank to “take appropriate action to ensure the conduct complained of ... is discontinued by the bank or any of its agents or employees”;

• award actual and compensatory damages “in an amount to be proven at trial;”

• award punitive damages “to the extent permissible under law”.

Mrs. Slater requests a jury trial on her lawsuit. A summons was delivered to a bank representative on Aug. 14, a document shows. The bank must respond by no later than Sept. 4 or face a default judgement, court records indicate.

Editor’s note: Ms. George represents the Southwest Ledger.