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U.S. Justice Department alleges bias at Glen Burnie used car dealership

The U.S. Department of Justice alleges a used car dealership in Glen Burnie has a history of discriminatory practices against African Americans looking to purchase a vehicle, according to a lawsuit filed Monday in the U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

The lawsuit names Guaranteed Auto Sales in Glen Burnie, along with owner Kelly Ann West and general manager Robert Chesgreen, as the defendants and claims they violated the federal Equal Credit Opportunity Act by offering worse terms for down payments to prospective black customers than to whites.

“Using race as a factor in determining credit terms, including the amount of down payment that a customer must pay, is despicable and illegal,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband, of the department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a news release. “By filing this lawsuit, the Justice Department is acting to ensure that all individuals are treated equally regardless of their race as they seek information about auto financing terms and apply for credit.”

Between September 2017 and April 2018, the Justice Department conducted tests in which individuals, called “testers,” posed as prospective car buyers to see whether the dealership discriminated based on race.

According to the lawsuit, white testers were offered a two-installment down payment, while none of the black testers were given that option.

In addition, black testers were told they needed to make a higher down payment than white testers for the same car, usually $2,000 compared to $1,500, the lawsuit stated. African American testers also were quoted higher bi-weekly payments for the same car — $150 compared to $125 for white customers — according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also says a black tester was told it was necessary to purchase a $1,700 warranty for a car loan, while no white testers were told a warranty was required.

A person who answered the phone at Guaranteed Auto Sales on Monday declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The lawsuit requests that the court order Guaranteed Auto Sales to stop discriminating on the basis of race in credit transactions. It also asks the court to order the dealership to take “affirmative steps” to “prevent the recurrence of any discriminatory conduct.” In addition, the lawsuit asks the court to award monetary damages to compensate victims of the defendants’ alleged discriminatory policies and practices.

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