Class-action based on Citi’s secret practice of “red-lining” to reject credit card applications and cancel existing cards solely because applicants had Armenian surnames
SAN MATEO, Calif.—A class-action suit filed filed late last week in federal court accuses Citibank of routinely and illegally denying credit for nearly a decade to Californians whose last names appeared to indicate they were of Armenian descent.
Citibank instituted this reprehensible “redlining” policy in 2015 with an unfounded assumption that automatically considered people of Armenian heritage as likely to commit fraud, said attorney Ara Jabagchourian the lead attorney for the plaintiff.
The bank’s secret statewide policy resulted in the rejection of credit card applications, rejection of requests for increased credit lines, and outright cancellation of accounts in good standing solely on the basis of perceived national origin, in violation of equal credit laws.
The lead plaintiff, Marine Grigorian, in the case is an Armenian woman from Granada Hills, California, who had held a Costco-branded credit card underwritten by Citibank for several years in good standing. When she applied for an increase in credit limits earlier this year, the request was denied by Citibank.
Evidence was later uncovered, however, that Citibank had enacted a policy where credit decisions for anyone with a last name that appeared Armenian were routed to a special unit for manual review where their applications were subjected to discriminatory scrutiny.
Employees in the unit would be reprimanded or punished by Citibank managers if they refused to go along with the policy of routine denials and cancellations. Applicants were given false, invented reasons for being denied credit, with some individuals referred to the bank’s fraud prevention units simply for having an Armenian surname. Agents were trained and instructed not to discuss the policy in writing or on recorded phone lines.
“Redlining is a disgusting form of racial and ethnic discrimination by banks that the law has prohibited for decades, yet we find it is still being practiced by Citibank, one of the largest financial institutions in America,” said attorney Jabagchourian. “Labelling credit applicants as ‘bad guys’ on the basis of having Armenian last names is reprehensible, immoral and illegal.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California seeks to cover all individuals who suffered discrimination because of this policy. It seeks unspecified monetary damages from Citibank as well as a prohibition of the redlining policy.
“This lawsuit will ensure that Citibank ends this practice and is punished for its wanton disregard of the law,” Jabagchourian added.