Moving across country and buying a new home are stressful events. Those stresses were partially ameliorated for my wife and me because we were moving to Massachusetts, a state that recognizes our same-sex marriage and protects residents against discrimination based on sexual orientation. Imagine how our stress levels soared when we were blatantly discriminated against as a married same-sex couple by Wells Fargo Home Mortgage (WFHM), our mortgage provider in Massachusetts.

From the start, WFHM insisted on treating my wife and me as separate borrowers rather than co-borrowers. This is not something they normally do with married couples. When asked for an explanation, our mortgage consultant wasn’t shy about the reason for the discrimination: we are a married same-sex couple. Here are the pertinent parts of our email exchange (right-click the picture to enlarge):

From: [Wells Fargo Home Mortgage Consultant]
Sent: Thursday, July 07, 2011 8:47 AM
To: Laurel Ramseyer
Cc: [redacted]
Subject: RE: some initial questions 

Hi Laurel,

Pls see my responses in blue. Thank you

Best regards,
Mortgage Consultant

From: Laurel Ramseyer
Sent: Wednesday, July 06, 2011 4:48 PM
To: [Wells Fargo Home Mortgage Consultant]
Cc: [redacted]
Subject: some initial questions

Hi [Wells Fargo Home Mortgage Consultant],

I’m starting to go through the packet I received today from Wells Fargo, and I have the following questions I hope you can help me with: [snip]

2. Regarding the loan application,
a. Why are [my wife] and I listed as separate borrowers rather than co-borrowers even though we’ll hold the title jointly? You are married but the system doesn’t yet know how to handle same sex marriages. The system is a bit archaic. We are moving to a new system in the coming months that will have the flexibility to accommodate same sex marriage.

Laurel Ramseyer

“Sexual orientation” was added to the Massachusetts law banning discrimination in mortgages way back in 1989, and same-sex marriages have been recognized in the state since May 17, 2004. Thus discrimination against married same-sex couples applying for a mortgage in Massachusetts has been illegal for over 5 years.

A call to the Legal InfoLine at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders confirmed that if a company wants to do business in Massachusetts, statements like “You are married but the system doesn’t yet know how to handle same sex marriages” won’t fly. We were, indeed, being illegally discriminated against.

Despite their discriminatory treatment of us on the application, WFHM did approve us for a mortgage. Until that happened, however, we were highly stressed because we didn’t know how far the discrimination might go. And while we could have switched to a different mortgage provider after we recognized the discrimination, doing so meant we would risk losing our bid on our new home by no longer meeting the very quickly approaching loan qualification deadline stipulated in our purchase and sales agreement.

Besides confirming what we suspected, the call to GLAD was instructive in another way. The people at GLAD that I spoke with were surprised to hear a complaint about Wells Fargo, a company with a stated commitment to diversity and a long track record apparently backing it up. GLAD hadn’t heard of other complaints of Wells Fargo discriminating against customers. The facts taken together seemed to point to localized ignorance and/or poor training in a regional office of Wells Fargo Home Mortgage rather than a company-wide policy of discrimination.

The question remaining was, what should we do about this? Nobody could reverse the humiliation we had felt or relieve us of the stress of uncertainty we had already endured. The most important thing, we decided, was to secure assurances from WFHM that the problem in their system would be identified and errant employees would be properly trained so that nobody else would have to face this discrimination. And, we would ask for an apology.

When I called the main number for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage and explained that I had a discrimination complaint, I was immediately connected to Mr. John Petermeier in the Office of the President. I expressed our desire that the flaw in the WFHM system be corrected so that nobody else would have to face this discrimination. I stressed that we weren’t attempting to get anyone in trouble, that we just wanted assurances that WFHM employees would be properly trained and treat all customers equally.

Mr. Petermeier said he would investigate the situation and consult with WFHM’s legal and compliance departments, then sent us the following letter (link added).

Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, a division of Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., (“WFHM”)

August 19, 2011

This letter is in response to our conversation on August 12, 2011, regarding your loan application.

WFHM wants to apologize that you did not receive the service you expected. Your correspondence was forwarded to management to review and take appropriate action as needed.

Please be advised that WFHM does not tolerate discrimination and complies with the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (“Regulation B”).

As discussed in our conversation, WFHM has corrected your Uniform Residential Loan Application to show you are a married couple filing a joint loan application. I have enclosed the corrected application for your records.

If you have any additional questions, please contact me directly at [redacted] or toll free at [redacted]. I am available to assist you Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Central Time.

John Petermeier
Executive Mortgage Specialist, Office of the President

Mr. Petermeier had been more forthcoming over the phone, so I found this letter disappointing. We appreciated their retroactively correcting the loan application, but we didn’t feel that the statement “forwarded to management” was a very solid a commitment to address the specific problems we faced here in Massachusetts.

So we’re left with having to trust that Wells Fargo Home Mortgage will follow through and train their employees to treat all married couples in Massachusetts equally. Doing so would be in line with the company’s stated values. It would also be in the interest of their reputation and bottom line since discriminating against same-sex couples in a state with such clear anti-discrimination laws only invites lawsuits.

Cross-posted at Blue Mass Group.

Laurel Ramseyer

Laurel Ramseyer