Consumer Discrimination

By Holly Keeran
Despite consumer and civil rights legislation, consumer discrimination still rears its ugly head.

Justice image by MVit from Fotolia.com

Historically, the United States has made great strides in lessening many types of discrimination through federal legislation such as the Civil Rights acts, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, the Fair Housing Act and the Fair Credit Reporting Act. However, loopholes and narrow-scope interpretations by state and federal courts provide disreputable businesses a way to continue illegal practices. The Center for Consumer Equality studied 81 federal court decisions made between 1990 and 2002 involving customers' allegations of race and/or ethnic discrimination. Since beginning the study, the Center reports a steady increase in this type of civil rights litigation.

Consumer Discrimination

According to Attorney Craig Fagan, a business cannot refuse service to anyone that the Civil Rights Act deems a "protected class." This would include discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, creed, national origin or disability. Fagan asserts that, although many businesses hang signs stating, "We reserve the right to refuse service to anybody," these signs are illegal and provide a way for a business to excuse illegal discrimination against certain consumers.

"Secret" Discrimination

Fagan asserts that, because direct evidence or obvious discrimination such as, "I'm sorry, but our company does not do business with Blacks" rarely becomes available, courts will consider "indirect evidence" of discrimination. For example, an African-American woman enters a pub and requests an application for a waitress position and is told by management that there are no positions available. Moments later, a white woman enters and requests and completes an application. If reported, a law firm or EEOC investigator could send in undercover "testers" to determine if in fact the pub practices overt discrimination. As reiterated by Fagan, "The law considers indirect evidence as powerful as direct evidence ...either [can] prove a case of racial discrimination at trial."

Marketing Discrimination

By definition, marketing and marketing research relies on segmenting the population into certain demographics such as age, gender and ethnicity. Research companies regard this type of discrimination as acceptable in that these classifications actually benefit stereotyped groups. However, such tactics as price discrimination and promotional strategies used to lure certain demographic groups to specific businesses are coming under fire. Examples of this could be restaurants discounting prices for children and retirees and clubs discounting cover charges and drinks for "Ladies' Nights." Recently, several state court opinions cite Ladies' Nights as gender-based discrimination and therefore unconstitutional. Currently no one has instigated litigation regarding age-based price discrimination.

"Redlining"

According to the article, "A History of Redlining," the term "redlining" originates from realtors and lending groups dividing community maps into "types" noted as either A, B, C or D. The black and low income neighborhoods, characterized as Type "D," were outlined in red on the map, indicating those areas as less than desirable for lending consideration. Although historically associated with financial institutions, the supermarket industry has also been seen to be incorporating this policy into its marketing strategy. According to Food First, an Institute for Food and Development Policy, "The supermarket industry has drawn boundaries defining where fresh, nutritious, competitively priced food is and is not provided for communities throughout the country. The result of supermarket redlining is that low-income shoppers are cut off from easy access to nutritious, affordable food." The Community Reinvestment Act, a federal statute, addresses lending practices, but does not deal with nonfinancial practices or mention "redlining" in particular.

H.R. 3126: Consumer Financial Protection Agency Act of 2009

In 2009 a federal statute was introduced "To establish the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, and for other purposes." Although H.R.3126 is currently on the House calendar, no vote is scheduled.

About the Author

Holly Keeran began writing for various websites in 2009 and has had several articles, primarily on legal issues, published online. A graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, she received a Bachelor of Science in liberal studies with minors in journalism and business law, concentrations in political science, international relations and paralegal studies.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article