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HONDA, BANKS SETTLE DISCRIMINATION SUITS

Jan 27, 2005

American Honda Finance Corp. and three banks have settled class-action lawsuits brought by black customers who accused them of racial bias in automobile lending policies.

The suits alleged that company policies routinely allowed car dealers to charge black customers higher interest rates on auto loans than were given to whites with similar financial histories.

Under the settlement, American Honda and the three banks - Bank One, Bank of America Corp. and U.S. Bancorp - will set tighter caps on how much car dealers can increase interest charges on car loans.

The settlements awaiting approval in U.S. District Court in Nashville include a stipulation that the four lenders will offer car loans without any markups to up to 2.4 million minority consumers.

Wyman Gilmore, an attorney for the plaintiffs, confirmed the terms of the settlement but declined further comment.

"We are pleased we reached the agreement and we think the settlement will contribute to more consistent practices in the industry," said Bank of America spokeswoman Shirley Norton in San Francisco.

The banks agreed to cap markups at 2.5 percent on loans up to 60 months, 2 percent on loans between 61 and 71 months and 1.75 percent on loans of 72 months or more.

Bank One will offer 875,000 preapproved loans without markups to blacks and other minorities, Bank of America will offer 600,000 of the loans and U.S. Bancorp will offer 300,000.

Bank One, which was acquired last year by J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. in New York, agreed to the settlement but denied the allegations of the plaintiffs in a statement.

"This litigation is more than 2 1/2 years old," the statement said. "In the interest of avoiding the expense, delay, inconvenience and risk of further litigation in the trial and appellate courts, the parties desire to resolve the dispute and to fully, finally and forever resolve, discharge and settle the litigation."

American Honda, which originally allowed markups as high as 3.5 percent, will impose caps of 2.25 percent on loans of up to 60 months, and caps of 2 percent on loans more than 60 months. The lender will offer 625,000 preapproved, no-markup loans to minorities.

Randall Noel, a lawyer for American Honda, declined to comment.

If Judge Todd Campbell accepts the settlements and there are no further delays, the four cases all will be resolved by Feb. 22.

General Motors Acceptance Corp. and Nissan Motor Acceptance Corp. have agreed to similar settlements in the last two years.

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