By Dena Aubin
NEW YORK (Reuters) - JPMorgan Chase & Co has agreed to pay $55 million to settle a U.S. Justice Department lawsuit accusing it of discriminating against minority borrowers by allowing mortgage brokers to charge them more for home loans, a person familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.
The U.S. Justice Department complaint, filed in Manhattan federal court on Wednesday, accused the bank of willfully violating the U.S. Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act between 2006 and 2009 and showing "reckless disregard" for the rights of at least 53,000 African-American and Hispanic borrowers.
"We’ve agreed to settle these legacy allegations that relate to pricing set by independent brokers," JPMorgan spokeswoman Elizabeth Seymour said. "We deny any wrongdoing and remain committed to providing equal access to credit."
A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara had no immediate comment.
The alleged discrimination involved so-called wholesale loans that were made through mortgage brokers the bank used to help originate loans, the complaint said. Chase allowed brokers to change rates charged for loans from those initially set based on objective credit-related factors, the complaint said.
As a result of that discretion, minorities were charged more for home loans than white borrowers with the same credit profile, paying tens of millions of dollars in additional mortgage costs, the complaint said.
An African-American taking out a $191,100 loan on average paid $1,126 more over the first five years of the loan than a white borrower. An Hispanic borrower with a $236,800 loan paid on average $968 more than a non-Hispanic white borrower, the complaint said.
Chase did not require mortgage brokers to document the reasons for changing rates and failed to address racial discrimination, encouraging it to continue, the complaint said.
The Justice Department has been pursuing a number of banks over alleged discrimination. From 2010 to 2014, the agency’s Civil Rights Division obtained more than $1.4 billion in relief under fair housing laws, according to an August report.
In one case, Wells Fargo & Co agreed to pay $175 million to settle allegations that it charged African American and Hispanic borrowers higher rates and fees on mortgages.
Cities around the country, including Miami, Baltimore and Los Angeles, also have filed lawsuits claiming that major banks targeted minorities for high-cost loans that often ended in foreclosures.
The bank first disclosed Bharara's lawsuit in a quarterly filing in 2015.
(additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel and Lauren LaCapra)