Click here to watch our Co-Director Sarah Ludwig and Staff Attorney Raúl Carrillo discuss this case on NY1’s Inside City Hall.
In June 2017, New Economy Project filed a federal lawsuit against Bank of America, N.A., and ChexSystems, a consumer reporting agency, on behalf of Adiaha Ruane, a low-income, African-American New Yorker. The lawsuit alleges that Bank of America violated federal and state consumer protection laws by failing to properly investigate fraudulent, unauthorized activity on Ms. Ruane’s bank account, and then reporting her to ChexSystems for suspected fraud activity. It further alleges that ChexSystems, in turn, violated federal and state law by failing to properly investigate the bank’s negative reporting. Ms. Ruane is seeking monetary and injunctive relief.
UPDATE: In April 2018, the court denied Bank of America’s motion to deprive Ms. Ruane of her constitutional right to a jury trial. Click here for the court’s ruling.
What happened to Ms. Ruane is unfortunately remarkably similar to what happened to George Campbell, another low-income, African-American New Yorker whom New Economy Project represented in a federal lawsuit. In September 2016, Ms. Ruane discovered that someone had deposited fake checks into her Bank of America account. It turned out that the fake checks bore a signature with an exact resemblance to that of none other than former President Barack Obama. Less than a year earlier, someone had deposited fake checks bearing a fake Obama signature into Mr. Campbell’s account. Incredibly, despite the fact that Bank of America was already on notice of this “Obama signature” fraud, the bank denied Ms. Ruane’s repeated disputes, reported her to ChexSystems for suspected fraud activity, and closed her account. Ms. Ruane was no longer able to receive her widow’s pension and could no longer afford her rent. As a result, she was forced to quit her job and relocate across the country to move in with her mother.
Ms. Ruane and Mr. Campbell are not alone. Over the years, New Economy Project has heard from dozens of low-income New Yorkers—all New Yorkers of color—whose repeated disputes of fraudulent, unauthorized activity on their bank accounts have been ignored by Bank of America and the other big banks – despite overwhelming evidence of fraud. By unreasonably denying their fraud claims and routinely reporting them to ChexSystems, the big banks have systematically shut out low-income people of color from the mainstream banking system, perpetuating economic inequality.
The lawsuit, which New Economy Project brought with co-counsel, Bromberg Law Office P.C., is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.