Court Rejects Bias Claim For Belarusian Denied Membership In Polish & Slavic FCU

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NEW YORK – A federal court last week dismissed a suit brought by a Belarusian immigrant who said he was discriminated against by Polish & Slavic FCU when the nation’s largest ethnic credit union denied him membership because he was neither Polish nor Slavic.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York said the $1.2 billion credit union did not violate provisions of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act because the law only applies to efforts to obtain credit and not membership in a credit union. “Applying for membership in a federal credit union or for a savings account does not automatically constitute a direct application to a creditor for an extension of the right to defer payment,” wrote U.S. Judge Sandra Townes in her ruling. “As Plaintiff did not become a member of [Polish & Slavic FCU] he concedes he never applied for a credit card, loan or mortgage.”

In his suit, Andrei Chizh claims when he went into the Queens branch of Polish & Slavic in 2010 to apply for membership he was told he would have to join one of the Polish cultural organizations, such as the Polish Cultural Foundation, in order to qualify for membership, but that not being Polish or Slavic, he would not be eligible to join one of the groups. Five days later he received a letter from the credit union saying, “information gathered during the application process did not meet the credit union underwriting standards for new membership account.”

The Belarusian national returned to the credit union three more times only to be told each time he lacked the proper paperwork required for membership, such as a permanent resident card and some kind of bill, or proof of membership in one of the ethnic organizations.

He eventually sued the credit union, claiming he was discriminated against because he was born in Belarus, constituting a violation of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.

During a pretrial conference, lawyers for Polish & Slavic said, “I was told by the credit union, Polish and Slavic, they would eliminate [Chizh] based on the fact that he is not Polish and that he is not Slavic.” The lawyer later recanted her testimony, saying the denial of the membership application stemmed from lack of proper identification and physical address.

In dismissing the ECOA claim, Judge Townes ruled under the law a plaintiff must be an “applicant” for “credit,” but Chizh never got that far. “In the instant case, Plaintiff seeks to conflate the process of applying for membership with the process of applying for credit,” she wrote.

Chizh, wrote the judge, asserts that the ECOA “protects not only people who filled a credit application, but also people who intend to apply for a credit account.”

“Neither the facts nor the law support this interpretation,” wrote the judge. “A precondition for credit eligibility is different from an aspect of a direct application.

“As plaintiff did not become a member of PSFCU, he conceded that he never applied for a credit card, loan or mortgage,” wrote the judge. “Accordingly, Plaintiff’s actions were outside the scope of the ECOA’s corresponding regulation.”

 

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