Detroit bank calls police on man trying to cash racism settlement cheques

A Detroit man who just settled a racial discrimination lawsuit is heading back to court, after the bank where he tried to cash his settlement cheques called police on suspicion of fraud.

Sauntore Thomas, a Black veteran of the U.S. Air Force, says he was trying to put the first lawsuit behind him on Tuesday when he walked into TCF Bank in Livonia, Mich., to cash three large cheques.

The cheques were worth a total of US$99,000, the bank later told several news outlets.

However, the bank teller refused to cash the cheques and police were ultimately called to question Thomas about potential fraud, he alleges in a new lawsuit filed Thursday.

Thomas is accusing the branch of racial discrimination against him for “banking while black,” according to the lawsuit.

“They did not want to assist me because I was African-American,” Thomas, 44, told AP.

“They didn’t want to assist me because they assumed that I had a fraudulent cheque, which was far from the truth.”

Thomas says he felt humiliated by the whole ordeal, especially after four police officers showed up and questioned him in the lobby of the bank for over an hour.

No arrests were made and no criminal charges were laid as a result of the incident.

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However, Thomas says this would not have happened if he were a white person.

“This was no mistake,” he told AP.

“I didn’t get an ‘I’m sorry.’ I didn’t get no cup of coffee, and I didn’t get no doughnuts. The only thing I got from them was a hard time.”

Thomas’ lawyer, Deborah Gordon, told the New York Times that the bank wrongly suspected her client of fraud.

“I have had this with Black clients before,” Gordon said. “There can be a lot of questions when they suddenly have money.”

Sauntore Thomas, right, and his lawyer, Deborah Gordon, left, talk, Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020 in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

Sauntore Thomas, right, and his lawyer, Deborah Gordon, left, talk, Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020 in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

AP Photo/Mike Householder

Bank spokesperson Tom Wennerberg said the cheques didn’t appear to be legitimate when they were scanned. He added that Thomas had less than $1 in his bank account and no recent activity.

Wennerberg also denied any racial bias in the case, although he did say that the bank should have accepted the cheques under an “extended hold” until they could be validated.

“We take extra precautions involving large deposits and requests for cash, and in this case, we were unable to validate the cheques presented by Mr. Thomas and regret we could not meet his needs,” he told the Times.

“We really want to apologize for the experience,” he said.

“Local police should not have been involved.”

Wennerberg went on to say the bank strong condemns “racism and discrimination of any kind.”

Thomas’ lawsuit claims he’s had a chequing account at the bank since 2018. He asked to open a new savings account, deposit his money and get some cash back.

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Thomas received the cheques as part of a confidential agreement with his former employer, the Enterprise car-rental company, the Detroit Free Press reports. The payout was part of a settlement over racial discrimination in the workplace.

Thomas says he ultimately took the cheques to another bank, where all of the money cleared and he was able to successfully open a new account.

Thomas’ lawsuit accuses TCF Financial Corporation of race discrimination. He is seeking a jury trial in the case.

“Those cheques couldn’t have been more solid,” Thomas’ lawyer told AP in a separate interview.

“It’s a ridiculous joke that some nationwide company is going to be handing out fraudulent cheques to me, that I’m going them pass on to my client. So obviously, they didn’t believe my client. It’s obvious.”

With files from the Associated Press

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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