- The Washington Times - Friday, March 28, 2003

CHICAGO, March 28 (UPI) — Attorneys representing African-Americans who accuse Chrysler of discriminatory lending practices in black neighborhoods have added Hispanics to a proposed class-action lawsuit.

An amended complaint filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court accuses the automaker of similar redlining practices in Berwyn, Ill., west of Chicago, which has a large Hispanic population.

"Since we filed the original complaint against Chrysler earlier this month, we've learned of other areas in which we believe that Chrysler has thrown the switch on what Chrysler claims is a color-blind credit-rating system," said attorney Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman.

"As we learn more about the case, it is becoming clear that Chrysler's actions in Chicago are not limited to one area, or one minority group."

The suit alleges credit applications of Hispanic car buyers were "tossed into a reject bin."

Black ministers have called for a nationwide boycott against DaimlerChrysler AG, the company formed when Germany's Daimler-Benz bought Chrysler Corp. in 1998.

"The boycott is on," said Rev. Leon Finney, pastor of the Woodlawn Apostolic Church of God Friday. Finney said meetings requested by black ministers to discuss the federal lawsuits with Chrysler fell apart.

The suit claims zone managers of Chrysler Financial Company LLC, the company's financing subsidiary, "systematically and intentionally" overrode an Automated Credit Evaluation system to deny low-interest vehicle financing to creditworthy blacks in two Chicago neighborhoods.

Chrysler executives allegedly used racist slurs and told dealers Chrysler did not want to finance car purchases by blacks because they were inherently bad credit risks.

The law firm has asked minority communities across the country to report any instances of geographic loan discrimination, a practice known as "redlining."

"We believe Chrysler selectively chooses high minority areas and rigs the system to have minority applications tossed in a 'reject bin,'" Berman said.

Chrysler categorically denied racist policies and called the suit "unfounded and without merit."

"The allegations of racially discriminatory lending practices and the use of racial slurs by employees in its business dealings are shocking and have been taken very seriously by the company," Chrysler said in a statement. "While DCS continues to conduct investigations into these disturbing allegations, the company emphasizes that it does not tolerate discrimination based upon race or any other prohibited bases in its lending practices or in its business dealings with others."

Chrysler said a complaint filed by the owner of a Berwyn dealership who had couples with above average credit ratings denied financing or offered an extraordinarily high 15 percent interest rate was a business dispute between the dealer and Chrysler.

"We know that this is wrong. It's morally wrong. It is humanly wrong. It is just wrong period," Rep. Bobby Rush said at a meeting of black clergymen March 15.

More than 300 black ministers called for African-Americans to boycott Chrysler, sell their stock, and demanded Chrysler increase in the number of minority-owned dealerships and executive positions for minorities.

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