COVID-19 is Not Color-Blind: Assessing the Legal and Equity Impact on Diverse Communities

5 Min Read By: Maggie Cardasis, Carol Evans, Mauricio Videla

“Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”

-John Robert Lewis 

On September 23, 2020, an esteemed panel discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic is exposing and exacerbating existing social and economic inequalities affecting racial and ethnic minority groups in America, including higher infection and death rates, decreased access to adequate healthcare, increased educational achievement gaps, and higher rates of job losses. This panel included Chris Brummer, Professor and Faculty Director of the Institute of International Economics Law at Georgetown Law; Dave Clunie, Executive Director at Black Economic Alliance; Patrice Ficklin, Fair Lending Director at the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; Jenn Jones, Chief of Membership & Policy at the National Consumer Reinvestment Coalition; Robin Nunn, Partner at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP; Anthony Sharett, EVP, Chief Legal and Compliance Officer, and Corporate Secretary at Meta Financial Group and MetaBank; and Odette Williamson, Director of the National Consumer Law Center’s Racial Justice & Equal Economic Opportunity Initiative. ABA Business Law Section members can watch the panel for free CLE credit here.

The confluence of the current global health emergency, the economic crisis, and the Black Lives Matter protests has underscored the major inequalities that persist today. The demonstrably unjust treatment of Black and brown communities has shown Americans that insufficient progress has been made since the civil rights movement. The recent passing of two civil rights icons—Congressman John Lewis and Rev. C.T. Vivian—has caused many of us to reflect on the magnitude of their accomplishments and how much more there is to be done.

This country’s well-documented history of exclusionary policies has infected every sphere of our lives, legitimizing racism and creating structural barriers to equity. For instance, residential redlining, which was promoted by the Federal Housing Administration’s official policies, has led to persistent residential segregation. The implications of segregation are devastating and self-reinforcing: less access to good jobs, greater concentration of poverty and crime, underfunded public schools, lower levels of homeownership, poor housing quality, and increased risk of illness or death.

The ramifications of institutionalized racism and segregation returned to the headlines as COVID-19 has taken a disproportionate toll on minorities. As of the date of this article’s composition, there have been 6,343,62 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 190,262 deaths in the United States.[1] According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is increasing evidence that minority groups are disproportionately affected by the pandemic. While the fatality rate among white Americans rose only 9%, the fatality rate among Asian Americans, Black Americans, and Hispanics rose 30%, and the fatality rate of Native Americans rose more than 20%.[2] Financially, the pandemic’s toll may prove insurmountable for many minority families and communities. The ever-expanding wealth gap will impact Black families most as they have significantly less wealth to help protect them from the devastating effects of an economic crisis, let alone the ability to pass assets down to future generations. Due to the compounding effects of society’s treatment of our Black communities, “the median wealth for Black families in 2016 was an astonishing $3,557—about 2% of the median wealth owned by white families, which owned nearly $147,000 in the same year.”[3]

The stubborn persistence of these inequities requires renewed efforts and commitment. Our panel will discuss the role of existing legislation and what more can be done. The current legal landscape includes the Civil Rights Act, which sought to end segregation in public places, banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin,[4] and became the archetype legislation for subsequent anti-discrimination laws that now permeate the financial landscape; the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of dwellings because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, and disability;[5] the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which prohibits credit discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age, or for receiving public assistance;[6] and the Community Reinvestment Act, which requires federal financial supervisory agencies to encourage financial institutions to help meet the credit needs of the communities in which they do business, including low- and moderate-income neighborhoods.[7]

Also at play is the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (“HUD”) new rule addressing disparate impact. In August 2019, HUD published a Proposed Rule seeking to amend the agency’s interpretation of the Fair Housing Act’s disparate impact standard. While HUD stated that the new rule was intended to better reflect the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc.,[8] many business executives, civil rights groups, and legal practitioners believe that the proposed rule is a step backwards, making it more difficult for plaintiffs to prove unintentional discrimination. Despite this opposition, HUD finalized the new disparate impact rule on September 4, 2020.[9]

The disparities are abundantly clear, and now is time to recommit to social justice and do more.

This article is the result of the authors’ independent research and does not necessarily represent the views of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, the United States, or Simmonds & Narita LLP

[1] WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard, World Health Org., (last visited Sept. 11, 2020).

[2] As U.S. Deaths Mount, Virus Takes Outsize Toll on Minorities, Associated Press, (last visited Aug. 27, 2020) (compared with an average over the last five years).

[3] Alissa Kline, How Banks Aim to Close Racial Wealth Gap: More Minorities in Leadership, Am. Banker, Jul. 12, 2020,

[4] See 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq.

[5] See 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601 et seq.

[6] See 15 U.S.C. §§ 1691 et seq.

[7] See 12 U.S.C. §§ 2901 et seq.

[8] HUD’s Implementation of the Fair Housing Act’s Disparate Impact Standard, 84 Fed. Reg. 42854 (Proposed Aug. 19, 2019).

[9] HUD Finalizes Rule to Align ‘Disparate Impact’ Rule with Court Ruling, ABA Banking Journal, (last visited Sept. 9, 2020).

By: Maggie Cardasis, Carol Evans, Mauricio Videla

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