Sauntore Thomas is one Detroit resident who can’t get a break from racial profiling and discrimination. According to Detroit Free Press, Thomas had just settled a racial discrimination lawsuit with his ex-employer only to be racially profiled at the bank where he tried to cash his settlement check.
Thomas sued his former employer, Enterprise Leasing Company of Detroit, accusing them of racial discrimination. He eventually settled the federal lawsuit confidentially this week and he went to the TCF Bank in Livonia to cash his settlement check. However, the bank wouldn’t cash or deposit his check. Instead, they proceeded to call the cops and started a fraud investigation.
According to TCF Bank spokesman Tom Wennerberg, Thomas presented three checks written from Enterprise that day — one for $13,000, one for $27,000 and one for $59,000. Wennerberg says the bank employee couldn’t “verify that those checks were due to a settlement.” He says the bank tried to reach Enterprise to verify that the checks were part of a lawsuit, but they couldn’t connect with anyone.
Wennerberg added that the assistant manager who waited on Thomas was Black and they believed something didn’t “look right,” so she called the cops. Wennerberg said Thomas wanted to deposit the two larger checks in his bank account, which had 52 cents in it. He says Thomas wanted to cash the $13,000 check but the bank communicated that this money would be on hold for two business days. Thomas was reportedly fine with this, but the bank argued that his “unusual” acts continued when he wanted to get a new debit card because he told the bank his old one wasn’t working.
Meanwhile, from Thomas’ point of view, the Assistant Branch Manager Erika Mack was suspicious from the start, even asking Thomas where he got the money in the first place. The 44-year-old says he answered her and told her that he received the money from a lawsuit settlement.
Thomas says that Mack then went to the back to call in and verify the check. She then returned and said the person who verifies the checks “was not around.” However, it turns out, that the assistant bank manager wasn’t going back and forth to the back area to finish Thomas’ transaction. She was really calling the Livonia Police, reporting that Thomas was trying to deposit fraudulent checks.
Eventually, the cops showed up in 10 minutes and Thomas had to explain himself again and he gave one of the two officers his lawyer’s business card. Thomas also proceeded to call his lawyer for assistance. The two officers spoke with Deborah Gordon, a prominent employment law attorney, who reiterated that Thomas had settled a federal lawsuit involving race discrimination and that he was only trying to deposit his settlement checks.
The bank still didn’t believe him, according to Thomas’ lawsuit and they refused to deposit his checks. They filed a police report against him for check fraud instead. Thomas closed his TCF account that same day and left the bank. Within an hour, he deposited the checks into a newly opened account with Chase bank in Detroit. The funds cleared within 12 hours. Thomas, who was without a car and walked to work, bought a 2004 Dodge Durango with the money.
On Wednesday, Gordon filed a racial discrimination lawsuit for Thomas against TCF. He’s suing for unspecified damages and he wants an apology. Wennerberg denies that the bank participated in any discriminatory behavior. “We were looking at the behavior, the asks that he was making,” he said.
According to the police, the bank’s computer system read the checks as fraudulent and Wennerberg argued that the checks Thomas presented showed a watermark that read VOID when they were scanned in a web viewer. However, they ultimately cleared, so Thomas isn’t buying it. He said that he’s angry that two officers questioned him inside the bank, while two more officers stood guard outside when he’s held an account with TCF Bank for nearly two years.
“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.”
The bank released a statement on Thursday: “TCF Bank is a diverse business serving a diverse community and we abhor racism in all forms. Mr. Thomas’ transaction was handled like any other transactions involving requests for large amounts of cash. We regret any inconvenience to Mr. Thomas.”
Thomas still emphasized the gravity of the situation. “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. But I didn’t get loud. I didn’t get confrontation. I did nothing,” Thomas said. “I had a very long journey and I feel like I have to go through the same thing again. It’s frustrating, but I do know God is in control. I will be vindicated because I didn’t do anything wrong.”