Senate Democrats introduced a bill Wednesday that would prohibit discrimination against customers in the financial services industry — legislation they say would strengthen the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which does not cover the banking industry.
The Fair Access to Financial Services Act would make it illegal for banks or any financial institution to deny services based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill is sponsored by Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-OH; Tina Smith, D-MN; Cory Booker, D-NJ; Bob Menendez, D-NJ; Elizabeth Warren, D-MA; and Chris Van Hollen, D-MD.
"This new legislation would ensure that all people receive equal treatment when trying to access services at financial institutions and hold them accountable when they engage in discriminatory acts," the senators wrote.
The senators said the bill is a direct response to reports, including in The New York Times in June, of discrimination experienced by Black and Brown people at banks such as Wells Fargo, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase.
The Times article included accounts from Black people who said they were turned away or accused of fraud while trying to make simple transactions, such as to cash a check or withdraw funds.
"Too many Black and brown Americans experience racial profiling and unequal treatment when trying to access services at banks and other financial institutions. Victims of discrimination are not even able to hold financial institutions accountable — it is shameful," Brown said in a statement. "It is past time we pass legislation that explicitly outlaws discrimination in our nation’s financial system so that Black and brown people can have complete access to financial services free from harassment."
House Democrats are expected to introduce their own version of the bill, backed by Reps. Hank Johnson, D-GA, and Joyce Beatty, D-OH, the senators said.
"For far too long, big banks and financial institutions have discriminated against Black and Brown families — denying communities of color the chance to build real economic security," Warren said in a statement. "Everyone deserves equal access to our banking system and this bill is a step in the right direction to help root out the systemic racism that has pervaded our financial institutions for decades."
As reports of racial discrimination among the nation's largest institutions have gained attention over the last year, some banks have updated policies or announced initiatives to combat systemic racism.
After a December report from The New York Times exposed racial discrimination by bank employees toward Black customers in an Arizona branch, JPMorgan Chase said in March it would make diversity training mandatory for all employees and would pay more attention to employee complaints.
The national focus on racial inequality has also intensified since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May, and many banks have pledged funds to combat racial injustice, as well as the economic and racial inequality exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.