On October 15, 2012, five Detroit residents and Michigan Legal Services sued Morgan Stanley for discriminating against African American homeowners by “providing strong incentives to a subprime lender to originate mortgages that were likely to be foreclosed on.” In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs are asking the court to certify a class action that could have as many as 6,000 Detroit residents. The plaintiffs are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC), and the law firm Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein.
According to a press release announcing the lawsuit,
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in New York, is the first that connects racial discrimination to the securitization of mortgage-backed securities, which were sold to institutional investors and pension funds. It is also the first case where a prospective class of victimized homeowners is suing an investment bank directly rather than the subprime lender whose loans the bank bought.
The five homeowners in the suit received their loans from now-defunct New Century Mortgage Corp., a one-time major player in subprime lending. As Morgan Stanley ramped up its mortgage-backed securities business starting in 2004, it became New Century’s largest buyer of subprime loans.
Morgan Stanley provided funds to New Century to originate the loans, and dictated the terms of the loans it wanted and ultimately purchased for its securitized pools. It pushed New Century to issue certain types of loans with no concern about risk, because it made its profit at the outset, when the securities were created and sold. Because minority residents of the Detroit region have been subjected to decades of housing and lending discrimination, and had fewer alternative sources of credit, they were natural targets for these predatory loans.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, religion, disability, and familial status in housing transactions, including mortgage lending. The lawsuit also alleges violations of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which bans discrimination for credit transactions, including consumer loans such as mortgages.