A Detroit man was allegedly racially discriminated by a bank where he tried to deposit settlement checks from a racial bias lawsuit. The man is now suing the bank for alleged race discrimination.
The last thing Sauntore Thomas would have expected while going into the Livonia branch of TCF bank was discriminatory treatment. Sadly, according to his account, that was precisely what he got.
According to the Detroit Free Press, Thomas had gone to the bank with settlement checks from a racial discrimination lawsuit against his employer. Instead of cashing or depositing Thomas's checks, the bank staff called the police and reported fraud.
"Local police should not have been involved. We strongly condemn racism and discrimination of any kind."
According to Thomas's account, he met with Assistant Branch Manager Erika Mack on that fateful day and asked to open a savings account, deposit the checks, and withdraw some cash.
Mack allegedly appeared suspicious immediately, explaining that his checks would need to be verified but claimed the bank's computerized "verification system" was not working that day.
Thomas said Mack explained she would have to call in the checks as a result, before retreating to a back area to make some calls. But as it turned out, Mack was not calling to get Thomas's transaction completed; she was calling the cops.
Thomas said Mack initially asked where he got the checks, and he told her they were from a lawsuit settlement. Still, she went ahead to call the police and allegedly told them he was trying to deposit fraudulent checks.
Four Livonia police officers soon arrived; two came in to question Thomas while the other two remained outside the doors. Thomas said he explained the situation to the cops again and even called his lawyer, Deborah Gordon, to confirm the story.
"The checks he presented at the bank were 100% legitimate. I got on the phone with the bank and also with the police who had been called and explained everything," Gordon told PEOPLE.
According to Thomas's lawsuit, the bank still refused to deposit his checks and went on to file a police report against him for check fraud. Thomas said he closed his TCF account immediately and, within an hour, was able to deposit the checks into a new account opened at a Chase bank in Detroit.
"I want to be vindicated," said Thomas, who filed a race discrimination lawsuit against TCF bank last Wednesday. "I feel very intimidated because I knew that if I would have gotten loud, they would have had me on the ground for disturbance of the peace."
TCF Bank spokesman Tom Wennerberg, however, denied that race had anything to do with the way they handled Thomas's situation. He claimed the checks had a "VOID" watermark when they were scanned in a web viewer.
Last Thursday, TCF bank issued an apology:
"We apologize for the experience Mr. Thomas had at our banking center. Local police should not have been involved. We strongly condemn racism and discrimination of any kind. We take extra precautions involving large deposits and requests for cash, and in this case, we were unable to validate the checks presented by Mr. Thomas and regret we could not meet his needs."
"I didn't deserve treatment like that when I knew that the check was not fraudulent," Thomas went on to say. "They discriminated against me because I'm black. None of this would have happened if I were white."
According to BBC News, the Livonia police officers began an investigation into Thomas for fraud, but have since closed the case.
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