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Discrimination | Credit, Lending & Services | Vermont

Vermont Credit, Lending & Services Q&A

Does Vermont have an anti-discrimination law protecting LGBT individuals from discrimination in credit, lending and services?

Yes.  Vermont was among the first states to pass a comprehensive statewide law prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination in 1992 (See, e.g., 21 V.S.A. § 495 (employment)). “Sexual orientation” is defined as “female or male homosexuality, heterosexuality or bisexuality (1 V.S.A. § 143).

In May, 2007, Vermont became the third state in New England to explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity (Public Act 41, An Act Relating to Prohibiting Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity, 2007-2008 Leg., Reg. Sess. (Vt. 2007)). The law defines gender identity as “an individual’s actual or perceived gender identity, or gender-related characteristics intrinsically related to an individual’s gender or gender-identity, regardless of the individual’s assigned sex at birth” (1 V.S.A § 144).

Does it also protect people perceived LGBT in credit, lending and services?

As to sexual orientation, maybe.  Although the anti-discrimination laws themselves do not distinguish between actual and perceived sexual orientation, the questionnaire used by the Civil Rights Unit of the Attorney General’s Office allows people to complain of discrimination on account of both sexual orientation and perceived sexual orientation.  However, the Human Rights Commission does not make this distinction in its employment complaint form.  There is no case law on this.  (Note:  The school harassment law, which is discussed below in the Students’ Rights section, does explicitly provide protection for students and their family members who are or are perceived of as gay, lesbian or bisexual.  The hate crime law, discussed below, also applies to actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.)

As to gender identity, and as noted above, gender identity is defined as wither “actual or perceived gender identity.” This language includes discrimination based upon perception.

How does Vermont anti-discrimination law protect people with regard to credit and loans?

Vermont law prohibits a financial institution from discriminating against an applicant for “credit services” on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status or other protected characteristics.  This applies to applicants for credit cards, personal loans, mortgages and commercial loans (9 V.S.A. § 4504 (5)).

In addition, Vermont law provides specific non-discrimination provisions with regard to the issuance of bank credit cards (8 V.S.A. § 10403), retail installment contractor retail charge agreements (i.e. in-store credit cards) (8 V.S.A. § 14303), motor vehicle retail installment contracts (9 V.S.A. § 2410), and agricultural finance leases (9 V.S.A. § 2362).

Example: GLAD brought and won a claim against a credit union that refused to allow a feminine appearing man to apply for a loan until he came back looking more masculine.  A federal court ruled that this constituted a claim of sex discrimination in violation of the credit non-discrimination laws (9 V.S.A. § 2488).

How does Vermont anti-discrimination law protect people concerning insurance purchases?

Vermont law prohibits discrimination against an applicant for insurance or an insured person based on sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, or sex with regard to underwriting standards and practices, eligibility requirements, and rates (8 V.S.A. § 4724(7)(B)(i) and (ii)).

Insurers are also prohibited from directly or indirectly investigating or inquiring as to an applicant’s, insured’s or beneficiary’s sexual orientation or gender identity in an application for insurance coverage or in connection with an application, as well as from using information about gender, marital status, medical history, occupation, living arrangements, beneficiaries, zip codes or other territorial designations to determine sexual orientation or gender identity (8 V.S.A. § 4724(7)(C)(i)).

Insurers may not use sexual orientation, gender identity, or beneficiary designation in the underwriting process or in determining eligibility for insurance (8 V.S.A. § 4724(7)(C)(ii)).

In addition, state-regulated insurers may not discriminate between married couples and parties to a civil union with regard to offering insurance benefits to a couple, a spouse, a party to a civil union, or their families (8 V.S.A. § 4724(7)(E)).

How do I file a complaint of discrimination?

Where you file a complaint depends on the type of discrimination you have experienced (i.e. employment, housing, credit, etc.) and whether the party you are complaining against is a state agency. Sometimes you have more that one option about where to file.

For Credit or Services:

  • If you believe you have been discriminated against in the provision of credit services, retail installment contracts, or insurance, you may file a complaint in writing with the

Department of Financial Regulation
89 Main Street
Montpelier, VT 05620-3101
(802) 828-3301

You can contact the Banking Division for complaints involving credit services or installment contracts at (802) 828-3307 and the Insurance Division for complaints involving insurance at (800) 964-1784.  In addition, you may want to contact the Vermont Human Rights Commission since these entities are also places of public accommodation.  You may also file your case directly in Superior Court of the county where the alleged discrimination occurred.

  • If you believe you have been discriminated against with regard to an agricultural finance lease, you may file a complaint with the

Office of the Attorney General
Consumer Assistance Program
109 State Street
Montpelier, VT 05609-1001
(802) 656-3183
(800) 649-2424 (Toll Free in Vermont Only)
(802) 304-1014 (fax)
ago.civilrights@vermont.gov
http://www.uvm.edu/consumer

or with the Superior Court of the county where the alleged discrimination occurred.

Do I need a lawyer?

Not necessarily. The processes at all of these agencies are designed to allow people to represent themselves. However, GLAD strongly encourages people to find lawyers to represent them throughout any of these proceedings, as well as if you choose to file a claim directly in the Superior Court. Not only are there many legal riles governing these processes, but employees and other defendants are likely to have legal representation.

What are the deadlines for filing a complaint of discrimination?

Complaints of discrimination with the Vermont Human Rights Commission must be filed within one year of the last discriminatory act or acts (Code of Vermont Rules 80-250-001, Rule 2). The Attorney General’s Civil Rights Unit also has a policy of requiring complaints to be filed within one year.  If you are going to bring a case directly in Superior Court, you should file within three years of the last discriminatory act, although under certain circumstances you may be able to file after that time.  There are very few exceptions for lateness, and GLAD encourages people to move promptly in filing claims.

Are there other options for filing a complaint for discrimination?

Possibly, depending on the facts of your particular situation.  This publication concerns only Vermont anti-discrimination law, and you may well have other rights.

State or Federal Court: After or instead of filing with the Commission, the CRU or the EEOC, you may decide to file the case in court. You may file in state court at any point within the time limitations, as discussed above.  In order to file in federal court, however, you must remove your case from the EEOC, and there are rules about when and how you must do this that the EEOC can explain.

In addition, you may file a court case to address other claims that are not appropriately handled by discrimination agencies, such as when you are fired in violation of a contract, fired without the progressive discipline promised in an employee handbook, or fired for doing something the employer doesn’t like but that the law requires.  Similarly, if you have a claim for a violation of constitutional rights – for instance, if you are a teacher or a governmental employee who believes his or her free speech or equal protection rights were violated – then those matters must also be heard in court.

What can I do to prepare myself before filing a complaint of discrimination?

Contact GLADAnswers by live chat or email at www.GLADAnswers.org or by phone at 1-800-455-4523 (GLAD) any weekday between 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. to discuss options.

As a general matter, people who are still working with or residing under discriminatory conditions have to evaluate how filing a case will affect their job or housing, and if they will be able to handle those possible consequences. Of course, even if a person has been fired or evicted, they may decide it is not worth it to pursue a discrimination claim. This is an individual choice, which should be made after gathering enough information and advice to make an informed decision.

Some people prefer to meet with an attorney to evaluate the strength of their claims before filing a case. It is always helpful to bring the attorney an outline of what happened, organized by date and with an explanation of who the various players are (and how to get in touch with them).