Two Chicago-area residents have joined a lawsuit against DaimlerChrysler's finance unit, claiming it denied them low-interest financing because they are Hispanic.
The company denies the charges, stating that one of the plaintiffs was approved and financed a vehicle and the other was offered financing, says James Ryan,spokesman for DaimlerChrysler's financing arm.
On Feb. 3, six Chicago-area residents filed suit in U.S. District Court in Illinois alleging that DaimlerChrysler Services North America LLC systematically denied low-interest financing to creditworthy customers from predominantly black neighborhoods shopping at two Chicago area dealerships. Ryan says the lawsuit is without merit and the company is "outraged" by the allegations.
Lawyers for the original six plaintiffs are seeking class-action status to represent all creditworthy blacks in the company's Illinois sales zone. Last week, the lawyers amended the initial complaint to include two Hispanic plaintiffs and sought to extend the class-action status to all creditworthy Hispanics in the sales zone.
In the lawsuit, Jamie Maldonado and Juely Rivera claim that despite above-average credit ratings the finance unit denied them credit at Suburban Dodge of Berwyn. More than one-third of the population of Berwyn, a Chicago suburb, is Hispanic, according to plaintiff attorneys.
Neither the dealership nor its owner are named as defendants in the lawsuit.
J.D. Jeffers, who has owned the dealership for 13 years, said he was unaware the lawsuit was being filed.
"We have never had a problem with Chrysler buying Hispanic (paper) or any other kind of paper in this store," Jeffers says. "I don't know what this law firm is alluding to."
An estimated 70 percent of the store's customers are Hispanic, he says. The dealership sold 190 new and used units in February, Jeffers says.
Typically, 75 percent of the vehicles sold at the dealership are financed through Chrysler, he says. A key part of the original complaint focuses on the allegation that Chrysler altered an automated computer program designed to evaluate customers objectively. Last week, the plaintiff's attorneys alleged that "all applications from the Berwyn dealership" were "pulled from the (automated) system for increased scrutiny."
"I have never had a problem," Jeffers said. "We use the (automated) system. As far as I have ever seen, it is a color-blind system."
Chrysler's Ryan said that following credit approval, Maldonado financed a vehicle with Chrysler in July 2002. Rivera was offered financing and chose an alternate source, he says.
The plaintiff's attorneys say Chrysler initially rejected Rivera's credit application and "subsequently only offered financing options at an extraordinarily high 15 percent over 60 months."
Maldonado financed a vehicle through Chrysler in July 2002 and "established perfect credit," says plaintiffs attorney Chris O'Hara.
Maldonado was denied credit when jointly applying with Rivera in February 2003, O'Hara says.