WASHINGTON - Stepped-up efforts by bank regulators to detect racial discrimination by lenders have uncovered other serious forms of bias as well.

Of the four discrimination referrals the Comptroller's office has sent to the Justice Department this year, only one has been based on discrimination against minorities.

The three others have resulted from suspected discrimination on the bases of age and gender, Attorney General Janet Reno said in recent testimony before the Senate Banking Committee.

Unexpected Turn

That the regulators have picked up on other kinds of bias has surprised some.

Lucy Griffin, a Virginia-based compliance consultant, said she had expected regulators to focus on violations of the Fair Housing Act, which usually relate to race, rather than violations of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which focus more on age and gender discrimination.

"While the focus on our exam technique has been race and ethnicity, our examinations are not going to be casting a blind eye on gender or age," said Stephen Cross, deputy comptroller for compliance.

The three cases - one sex discrimination and two age discrimination - were detected during regular compliance exams, OCC officials said.

Severity of Problem Unclear

The race discrimination case, on the other hand, was uncovered by a targeted fair-lending exam. The OCC plans a total of 20 such exams this year and has completed eight.

OCC officials refused to speculate whether this kind of discrimination was more widespread than race-based discrimination.

"I think it's too small a sample to draw any conclusions," Mr. Cross said.

But Ms. Griffin said it may just be that these types of discrimination are easier to detect. Frequently, loan officers document the discrimination on applications.

"There's usually a paper trail," Ms. Griffin said. "People forget how age and sex have to be considered."

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