Consumer Finance Insights
February 16, 2017

DACA-Protected Plaintiff Files Class Action Alleging Lending Discrimination Based on Citizenship Status

On January 31, 2017, Mitzie Perez—a former undocumented immigrant who is authorized to work in the United States under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”) policy—filed a class action in the Northern District of California, Perez et al. v. Wells Fargo & Co. et al., No. 17-454 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 31, 2017), claiming that Wells Fargo discriminated against her by denying her a student loan based on her citizenship status.

Perez is a student at University California, Riverside, who obtained an Employment Authorization Document (“EAD”), a federal work permit issued under DACA.  On August 26, 2016, she applied for a student loan through Wells Fargo’s website.  As part of the questions on the application, she responded that she was neither a U.S. citizen nor a permanent resident.  In response, she received a message declining her application, citing her citizenship status as one of the reasons for the decline decision.  She then changed her response on website to indicate that she was a permanent resident alien.  In response, the website indicated that she would need a U.S. Citizen to co-sign her loan application with her.

Perez alleges that Wells Fargo’s decision to deny her loan application constituted “arbitrary” unlawful discrimination based on her citizenship status, and that Wells Fargo’s conduct violated her civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1941, as well as the California Civil Rights Act and California consumer protection statute.  She claims that banking secrecy laws only require certain information—such as name, date of birth, address, and an identification number—that she could have provided to Wells Fargo had her loan not been denied based on her citizenship status.  She alleges that she was injured because she was forced to continue financing her education by using credit card debt, presumably at higher interest rates.  Perez’s co-plaintiff, the California League of United Latin American Citizens, alleges for its part that it was injured because it had to “divert resources from its primary advocacy projects” to assist Perez and other class members.

Whether the lawsuit will gain any traction is an open question.  But this lawsuit is worthy of attention, as it could spark similar suits against other financial institutions that originate student loans, or could initiate a rash of discrimination lawsuits by DACA protectees as to other financial products.