Accord between Unia and a bank to terminate a lawsuit claiming discrimination based on nationality.

28 September 2016
Area of action: Goods and services
Grounds of discrimination: Racism

Following the introduction of an American regulation (known as the “Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act” or “FATCA”), a bank in Belgium decided that the obligation thereby imposed to provide information to the American tax authorities on customers affected by the act (referred to as “US Persons”) would be too time-consuming and expensive to fulfil. 

In 2014, the bank therefore decided to close the accounts of any customers falling into this category. Moreover, the bank refused to open any new accounts for such customers.

A number of the affected customers contacted Unia to complain about the closure of their accounts, which they considered to be discrimination based on their American nationality. After an initial review of the case, Unia determined that the bank had in fact applied an unjustified discrimination based on the nationality of those affected, in violation of the law of 30 July 1981.

Over the course of several exchanges with Unia, the bank maintained that its position was necessary, appropriate and non-discriminatory. The bank chiefly invoked the disproportionate costs that it would incur if it were to effectively comply with the FATCA rules and defended the difference in treatment of “US Persons” on these grounds.

Because Unia and certain former “US Persons” customers were unwilling to accept the bank's position, they decided to take legal action to establish that discrimination had taken place and filed an injunction before the President of the Commercial Court of Brussels.

Unia, the former customers in question and the bank agreed to ask the President of the Court to schedule the hearing with enough time for a final attempt to negotiate an amicable solution to the problem before proceeding.

The bank then voluntarily decided to revise its position and agreed, starting from 1 March 2016, to once again offer the “US Persons” customers the same services they had received prior to the termination in 2014, under the same conditions. The bank confirmed that its change of policy would not only apply for the plaintiffs and the former customers whose accounts had been closed, who would thus be able to open new accounts, but also for any new “US Persons” customers in the future.

The bank also proposed a satisfactory solution for the customers who had contacted Unia and had taken the legal action. Thus, by mutual agreement, the legal procedure that had been initiated was terminated as no longer relevant.

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