A Detroit man settled one racial discrimination lawsuit and found himself in another after a bank refused to cash his settlement checks.
On Tuesday, Sauntore Thomas went to TCF Bank in Livonia — a suburb of Detroit — to open a new savings account, deposit checks and cash another. The situation went downhill after Thomas met with Erika Mack, the assistant branch manager, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Mack told him the checks needed to be verified by the bank’s computer software and asked him “how did you get this money?” After Thomas told her it was from a lawsuit settlement, she walked away to “call in the checks” since she said the computerized verification system wasn’t working that day. When she returned, Mack told him the person who does verifications wasn’t present. Thomas stated he would wait until they returned. The amount of Thomas’ settlement was not revealed per the terms of the federal lawsuit against his former employer, Enterprise Leasing Company of Detroit.
Within minutes, Thomas was face-to-face with two Livonia police officers. Two more officers were guarding the bank’s doors.
The encounter frightened 44-year-old Thomas.
“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,” he recalled. “But I didn’t get loud. I did nothing.”
Thomas explained the situation to the officers and offered a business card for his lawyer, Deborah Gordon.
“I got on the phone with the bank. I sent them my federal court complaint, to see that it matched. I did everything,” Gordon told the paper.
“Obviously, assumptions were made the minute he walked in based on his race. It’s unbelievable that this guy got done with a race discrimination case and he’s not allowed to deposit the checks based on his case? It’s absolutely outrageous,” she added.
Despite Thomas’ and Gordon’s efforts, the bank refused Thomas’ requests and filed a police report for check fraud. He eventually took the checks to a Chase bank branch where he opened a new account and deposited his money. It was available within 12 hours.
“I didn’t deserve treatment like that when I knew that the check was not fraudulent,” Thomas said. “I’m a United States veteran. I have an honorable discharge from the Air Force. They discriminated against me because I’m black. None of this would have happened if I were white.”
He filed a lawsuit against TCF Bank the next day. A TCF bank spokesperson, Tom Wennerberg, says the checks presented included a VOID watermark when they scanned the checks, and that racism wasn’t a factor. Wennerberg added that the person who waited on Thomas at the bank was a Black assistant manager who felt something didn’t “look right.” He also shared with the Detroit Free Press that Thomas presented three checks that day: one for $59,000, one for $27,000 and a third for $13,000.
Thomas is suing the bank for unspecified damages and wants an apology from TCF.
“I had a very long journey and I feel like I have to go through the same thing again,” Thomas said. “It’s frustrating, but I do know God is in control. I will be vindicated because I didn’t do anything wrong.”