Citibank Sued Over Alleged Discrimination Towards Armenians

( – An Armenian businesswoman is suing Citibank for discrimination that allegedly dates back years. Mary Smbatian leads a group that filed a lawsuit on November 17, saying the bank closed their accounts due solely to their names and ethnicity. The bank shut down Smbatian’s account in February last year, causing chaos for her business. She believed she was a victim of discrimination, and according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), she was right.

In early November, the CFPB fined Citibank $25.9 million for a history of anti-Armenian discrimination dating back to at least 2015. The bank singled out credit card applicants with Armenian names and ordered employees never to discuss why an application was refused or more severely scrutinized.

Bank staff focused on surnames that ended with “ian” or “yan” and applied stricter criteria, such as requesting further information or reassurance. According to the CFPB findings, staff referred to Armenians as “bad guys” or “Southern California Armenian Mafia.”

CFPB Director Rohit Chopra said, “Citi stereotyped Armenians as prone to crime and fraud. In reality, Citi illegally fabricated documents to cover up its discrimination.”

Citibank did not deny the findings but said it did not intentionally disadvantage customers of Armenian descent. “Regrettably, in trying to thwart a well-documented Armenian fraud ring operating in certain parts of California, a few employees took impermissible actions,” spokesperson Karen Kearns said.

Kearns added that the bank took “appropriate action” against staff members who acted inappropriately, and the discriminatory practices would not be repeated. “We sincerely apologize to any applicant who was evaluated unfairly,” she said.

Senator Elizabeth Warren commented on the scandal and said the bank acted illegally and the CFPB was right to hold it to account. Taking a person’s nationality into consideration in a business transaction violates the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, as the CFPB notes.

The Federal Reserve names Citibank the fourth largest financial institution in the United States, with assets worth $21 trillion.

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