A Black doctor from Houston has accused JPMorgan Chase Bank of racial discrimination, according to a federal lawsuit. NBC News reported that Dr. Malika Mitchell-Stewart, who Valley Oaks Medical Group recently employed after completing her residency, rejoiced with excitement when she received her first check from the company worth a whopping $16,780.16.
However, NBC News reported that Mitchell-Stewart’s big moment quickly turned sour when staff members at the bank’s First Colony Branch in Sugar Land failed to help her deposit the big signing bonus. In the suit, the 34-year-old medical official claimed that the bank’s employees accused her of her fraud and questioned her employment as a doctor.
“Dr. Mitchell-Stewart certainly did not expect that when she attempted to open a bank account with Chase and proudly deposit her first check as a new physician,” the suit read. “What Dr. Mitchell-Stewart was reminded of on this day was that she is a black woman attempting to deposit $16,000 in a predominantly white affluent suburb. … Solely because of her race, Dr. Mitchell-Stewart was discriminated against by members of Chase’s banking staff and denied services provided to non-African American customers of Chase.”
In a statement to ABC News 13, Mitchell-Stewart claimed that the humiliating moment made her feel like “a criminal.”
“It was an unfortunate situation. They took my special moment away… I’ve never done anything wrong,” she said.
The young doctor further explained that she cooperated with the bank staff’s egregious demands by calling Valley Oaks Medical Group to verify her medical credentials in addition to presenting a business card, but even that was not enough.
“In order to get Texas medical license or a medical license at all, you have to have a clean record,” Mitchell-Stewart added. “You have to go to school for so many years, and they just didn’t care. They didn’t respect that. They didn’t respect my credentials.”
Chase issued a statement shortly after the lawsuit made headlines.
“We take this matter very seriously and are investigating the situation,” the company wrote. “We have reached out to Dr. Mitchell-Stewart to better understand what happened and apologize for her experience.”
While it’s a step in the right direction, Mitchell-Stewart’s attorney, Justin Moore, said the incident sheds light on the banking industry’s long history of discrimination against Black people.
“For a black female physician to be treated this way by Chase is a devastating reminder that no matter how hard we try and how far we climb, major corporations in this country still view us as if we are nothing,” Moore told NBC News. “Courageously, Dr. Mitchell-Stewart decided to not let Chase treat her like a criminal because she is Black and is seeking to fight back. … We all should be inspired by her resolve and willingness to fight back.”
Over the last decade, a few other Black bankers have fought back against racial discrimination. In December 2021, a Black man named Joe Morrow from Minneapolis reached a quiet settlement with the U.S. Bank after a branch manager accused him of trying to cash a fraudulent check.
During the incident in October 2020, Morrow attempted to cash a $900 check from his company United Natural Foods. Still, the transaction quickly landed him in handcuffs when the branch manager failed to verify his employment with the company and called the police instead.
According to the Star Tribune, the bank manager told authorities that he had allegedly received three fraudulent checks from the same employer that week. While awaiting confirmation, police placed Morrow in handcuffs. One officer claimed that the young man “flexed” at him “in a threatening manner.”
The settlement amount was never disclosed as a part of Morrow and U.S. Bank’s agreement. Still, the Minneapolis-based company said in a statement that they were committed to reviewing their employee training guidelines, which reportedly include “unconscious bias training.”
“We will continue to listen and learn from the community as we expand our efforts to advance the cause of equality for all,” Andy Cecere, U.S. Bancorp’s chief executive officer, told The Star Tribune. In May 2020, the company pledged to donate more than $100 million a year to close the racial wealth gap, a separate report from the outlet noted.
Similarly, in 2019, the horrors of banking while Black was highlighted from within the racist inner workings of the industry’s system when a former Black financial advisor named Ricardo Peters and his client, NFL star Jimmy Kennedy, shared recordings of their interactions with bank employees, highlighting some of the discrimination they faced.
The St. Louis Rams alum, who amassed nearly $13 million during his career, claimed that he was given “the runaround” on more than one occasion after he tried to become “a private client,” the New York Times reported in their article titled, “This Is What Racism Sounds Like in the Banking Industry.” Kennedy’s confusion was quickly cleared up upon meeting his new advisor at one of the bank’s locations in Arizona.
“You’re bigger than the average person, period. And you’re also an African-American,” the employee explained in the NFL player’s audio recording of their conversation. “We’re in Arizona. I don’t have to tell you about what the demographics are in Arizona. They don’t see people like you a lot.”
The 6-foot-4-inch athlete initially sought help from the branch’s star financial advisor Peters, but Kennedy was shocked when he discovered why he was being assigned a new financial advisor. Peter’s claimed in the scathing piece that higher-ups at the company intentionally blocked him from taking on elite clients as he climbed up the ranks in his position.
In one incident, a manager accused him of stealing customers’ personal files. Although the situation was rectified, his boss told him that he “needed to be more cognizant of how his colleagues perceived him.”
Peters’ questionable manager later showed his true colors when the bank official complained that another financial advisor was stealing a prospective client. A Black woman who had previously been on section-8 was awarded a large sum from a wrongful death suit following her son’s passing.
“You’re not investing a dime for this lady,” he said, per Peter’s audio recording. He claimed that he knew from experience that she would quickly burn through the money. “It happens every single time…This is not money she respects,” he added. “She didn’t earn it.”
After being fired from Chase without warning, Peters opened up his own investment firm, but because of his swift termination, all of his clients’ financial transactions were put on hold, including Kennedy, who had nearly $92,000 frozen in limbo during the tough period.
The NFL star’s new advisor claimed that the bank was intimidated by his size and afraid to notify him that his application to become a private client had been denied.
“You sit in front of him. You’re like three times his size — you feel what I’m saying? — he already probably has his perception of how these interactions could go,” the employee explained, advising him not to notify the bank’s racist manager.
Kennedy later filed a discrimination lawsuit against the branch, but the company denied the claims.
“We found no evidence to substantiate your allegations,” Chase wrote in a letter.
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