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Wisconsin car dealers face class action lawsuit alleging loan bias

November 22, 2010

Fifteen car buyers who live in Milwaukee, Wis., or nearby have sued the captive finance arms of Ford, General Motors, Toyota, Honda and Nissan, saying they were racially discriminated. The suit alleges that the lenders allow dealerships to inflate interest rates without telling consumers.


The attorney in the case is seeking class action status for the suits, and believes there may be thousands of people affected in the Milwaukee area. So far, suits have been filed only on behalf of black car buyers, but the lawyer says his firm expects to file similar suits shortly on behalf of Latino clients.


The Milwaukee suits are of a piece with those filed around the country since 1998. Earlier this year, a judge in Tennessee ruled that Ford Motor Credit had discriminated against black customers there. The GMAC, the Nissan Motor Acceptance and American Honda Finance all have settled civil suits concerning discrimination in lending.


Ten franchised dealers are mentioned in the Milwaukee suits, but have not yet been named as defendants. The plaintiffs lawyer, though, said that was a just a strategic decision that will make attaining class action status easier. The dealerships are likely to be added as defendants later.