Indians accuse US bank of discrimination

Two Indian customers have filed an unusual lawsuit alleging discrimination against a bank set up by members of the Indian and east Asian businesses in the US city of Michigan.

Last Updated: Aug 22, 2013, 19:15 PM IST

Washington: Two Indian customers have filed an unusual lawsuit alleging discrimination against a bank set up by members of the Indian and east Asian businesses in the US city of Michigan.

Jasit Takhar and Anil Gupta last March filed the case against Novi-based Lotus Bancorp Inc and three of its senior officers alleging discrimination when they fell behind on payments on a nearly USD 1.5 million loan.

Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Denise Langford Morris yesterday ruled that the lawsuit can proceed, even as attorneys for the defendants had filed a motion asking the judge to dismiss the suit.

"We`re pleased the case is moving forward. Now, we`re looking forward to taking depositions from the defendants," said Takhar and Gupta`s attorney Elizabeth Thomson.

Morris did rule against the plaintiffs and their motion that the case be established as a class-action lawsuit.

According to crainsdetroit.Com what makes the lawsuit unusual is that Lotus Bancorp, the holding company for Novi-based Lotus Bank, was founded in 2007 by members of the local Indian and east Asian business community to serve their commercial lending needs.
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Most of those who invested in the bank were of Indian descent. Most of its board members are Indian. Yet, the holding company, the bank and upper management are being sued over allegations they violated the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act of 1976 by discriminating against east Indians.

The lawsuit is based on a series of emails in 2010 and 2011 by the bank`s president, Neal Searle, and one of its executive vice presidents, Richard Bauer, who is also the bank`s CFO.

Both are named as defendants, as is chief lending officer John Westerheide, the recipient of some of the emails, which contain highly derogatory comments about Indians.

One, by Bauer, said that "the only good Indian is a dead Indian," and another by him, when asked if he wanted free tickets for his Indian customers to attend a concert by an Indian singer, said he was "only interested if someone is going to detonate an incendiary device." According to the lawsuit, Takhar and Gupta, through their Jackson-based Four Pointe Investments LLC, obtained a mortgage of nearly USD 1.5 million from Lotus in 2008 to buy a Travelodge motel in Jackson.

In 2010, the two told Lotus they were having cash flow problems because of the recession and would have trouble continuing to make timely payments. They claim loan officers said the bank would agree to a forbearance on the loan, but upper management later ruled that out.

The lawsuit quotes bank`s president Searle as saying, in reference to others associated with the bank, "I don`t care what your Indian buddies told you, I make the decisions. I know how you Indians operate. You like to deal with someone you know in upper management, but this does not work like that. Do you understand English?"

Takhar and Gupta eventually got current on their loan after repeatedly being threatened with foreclosure.

The lawsuit doesn`t specify an amount the plaintiffs are seeking. Plaintiffs` attorney Thomson said they had expenses related to their negotiations with the bank and with obtaining money to get their loan current.

She said they are also entitled to whatever damages a jury deems reasonable for violations of the Elliott-Larsen Act.

PTI