After a racial-discrimination lawsuit filed by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or Acorn, Wells Fargo's mortgage unit has disabled a link from its Web site to a neighborhood search service.
The Acorn suit, filed Wednesday in a Dallas federal court, charges Wells Fargo Home Mortgage with racial steering through its Web site in violation of the Fair Housing Act. At issue, says Acorn, is a so-called "community calculator" online neighborhood search service that had been available at Wells' site. The search service, operated by Homefair.com, uses information compiled by CACI Marketing Systems, an Arlington, Va., company, according to Acorn's suit.
In a statement Thursday, Wells' Des Moines-based mortgage unit said it had disabled the link "until we can determine if the editorial content is compatible with our demonstrated commitment to low- and moderate-income homebuyers." The statement also asserted that the site "is licensed to more than 2,000 other Web sites, including realtors, lenders, and financial service organizations across the country."
A Wells spokesman declined to comment further. Attempts to reach CACI Marketing Systems and Homefair.com for comment by press time were unsuccessful.
Acorn's suit claims that the site discouraged people from buying homes in predominantly minority areas "by using overt racial classifications for those areas." The suit said the site referred residents of predominantly minority zip codes to other predominantly minority zip codes and residents of predominantly white zip codes to other predominantly white zip codes.
Michael M. Daniel, an attorney for Acorn in Dallas, said that until Thursday Homefair.com classified neighborhoods by lifestyle and incorporated racial stereotypes into its classifications.
At press time, the lifestyle descriptions could not be viewed directly on Homefair.com's site. But Mr. Daniel provided, via e-mail, screen shots of what he said the community calculator results had looked like before Thursday. Reports by the San Francisco Chronicle and the Associated Press also included accounts of the offending material, citing Mr. Daniel as the source.
In its statement, Wells said: "We have no control over the data or content of this search tool but merely facilitate access to the site through page links."
Mr. Daniel, however, said the connection "was more than a simple link to their site. They were telling you it was an integral part of the process of finding a home. They were taking credit for providing this service to the consumers."
He also asserted that Wells' lending patterns in Dallas "are consistent with the editorial content in those lifestyle descriptions and the use of that editorial content."