If you’re pregnant or about to go on maternity leave, you may have a hard time obtaining a mortgage for your home even though it violates federal law. The Justice Department and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) have settled with a variety of lenders and insurers for denying or delaying a mortgage application on grounds of maternity discrimination.
"The birth of a child, a joyous event for a family, should not become the basis for denying that family a home mortgage," Bryan Greene, HUD's general deputy assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity, told the Los Angeles Times.
Over the years, Bank of America, PNC Mortgage, Cornerstone Mortgage, and MGIC have been caught discriminating against women who were pregnant, which directly violates the Fair Housing Act that says any forms of unequal treatment based on gender or familial status are prohibited.
The latest case was settled on June 25, when giant mortgage insurer MGIC was accused of mortgage discrimination, which awarded 70 female victims a compensation settlement of $511,250 and an additional $38,750 in civil penalties. In the case of Mountain America Credit, when a married couple applied for a mortgage from their credit union, the application was put aside because the loan officer learned the wife was on maternity leave. The credit union then told the couple they could reapply “only when the wife returned to work and received a paycheck.” Mountain American agreed to pay $25,000 to settle and blamed their actions on their private loan insurer Arch Mortgage Insurance whose underwriting requirements they were following.
"It's ridiculous," Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, executive director of the advocacy group MomsRising, told the LA Times."Three-quarters of moms are working, many of them at more than one job," because they know the income they earn is essential for the economic support of their families, including paying the mortgage.
There is the assumption that when a woman leaves on maternity to give birth and healthily begin her baby’s life in the world, her commitment to the workplace ends. When a household’s regular two-income flow diminishes down because a mother needs to stay home with her newborn, lenders are inclined to think mortgage payments will either be late or stop altogether.
Rowe-Finkbeiner believes part of the problem is many lenders have, “outdated notions about women in the workplace, if indeed those notions were ever valid."
The way families approached the balancing act of work and child-rearing began to change in the 1970s, according to a U.S. Census Bureau Labor Force household economic study. Over the past 40 years, more mothers return to the workforce to “maintain economic wellbeing.”
By 1978, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed, which made it illegal for any employer to discriminate on the basis of pregnancy and childbirth, which only makes it more shocking the fact that mortgage lenders were getting away with it time after time. Today, 59 percent of women return to work within three months after giving birth to their first child.