Why the CFPB is being accused of discrimination

Jim Henry is a special correspondent for Automotive News.

Critics of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are enjoying a private moment of glee over accusations in a published report that the CFPB itself could be guilty of discrimination against its employees in personnel evaluations.

In fact, the CFPB confirmed it “detected differences in employee ratings” in an internal analysis. The bureau reported its findings to the National Treasury Employees Union and launched an internal review, a CFPB spokesman said today in a written statement.

“If the ongoing review finds problems, we will be proactive about taking appropriate corrective actions,” said the spokesman, Sam Gilford. “We hold ourselves to the standards of fairness that we expect of the companies and industries we regulate.”

The CFPB’s critics in Congress wasted no time in picking up the accusations, which appeared in the March 6 American Banker magazine article “CFPB Staff Evaluations Show Sharp Racial Disparities.”

That’s ironic because the CFPB has been raking the auto finance industry over the coals, accusing lenders of allowing dealerships to charge higher rates for legally protected classes of borrowers, especially minorities.

The CFPB argues that what counts is whether statistics show a “disparate impact” -- that is, higher rates -- for legally protected customers regardless whether the discrimination is intentional.

The CFPB’s critics were quick to turn that logic against the CFPB.

“You can say there definitely seems to be some double standard at play here,” said Chris Stinebert, CEO of the American Financial Services Association, a lender trade group in Washington, D.C.

A spokesman for the National Automobile Dealers Association declined to comment.

In its story, American Banker said it obtained internal CFPB statistics showing white CFPB employees were roughly twice as likely as black CFPB employees to get top-box scores on personnel evaluations.

The same day, Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, fired off a letter to CFPB Director Richard Cordray, saying the article “raises significant concerns” about the CFPB’s “internal management practices.” The letter demands information from the CFPB regarding employee evaluations and any equal-opportunity complaints that have been filed.

The letter was also signed by Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit.

The Hensarling letter also claims that fewer than half of CFPB employees in a 2013 employee survey “agree that promotions and pay raises at the Bureau are based on merit.”

CFPB spokesman Gilford said the bureau’s most recent employee survey found that CFPB employees are “more satisfied with their jobs than their peers across federal government. It also found that overall job satisfaction has improved from the previous year.”

You can reach Jim Henry at autonews@crain.com

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