Most Americans probably take it for granted that they have the right to walk into a financial institution such as a bank and receive the same services that any other customer would receive. Unfortunately, however, there have been recent instances in which such institutions have denied access to people of color, and racial profiling seems to be behind it.
It would certainly seem that such treatment violates the spirit of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, due to a loophole in the law, financial institutions sometimes get away with the discriminatory practice.
What does the Civil Rights Act say?
Among the many reforms resulting from the Civil Rights Act was a provision that most businesses must not treat customers differently on the basis of race. This was to prevent business owners from refusing to serve people of color, segregating them to certain seating areas or forcing them to use separate, and typically substandard, facilities. At the time, these were common practices that the laws of some states upheld.
What is the loophole?
The language of the Civil Rights Act identifies businesses that must comply with the provision to treat people of color equally. It does not specifically identify financial institutions, however. As a result, when people of color who have received discriminatory treatment because of racial profiling attempt to bring the case to court, it can be very difficult for them to win.
What are lawmakers trying to do about the problem?
Last October, two U.S. senators, one from Ohio and one from Minnesota, introduced legislation that would close the loophole by outlawing discrimination on the basis of racial profiling. The senators purposely worded the bill in such a way that it would close the loophole in the Civil Rights Act and provide equal access to financial services.
The bill did not make it to the floor for a vote. However, the new Congress may consider it again if its sponsors reintroduce it.