Bank Calls Cops on Black Man Attempting to Deposit Racial Discrimination Settlement Check From Employer

An African-American man is suing a bank after staff called the police on him when he tried to deposit a check he received after settling a lawsuit with his former employer for racial discrimination.

Sauntore Thomas, 44, settled the lawsuit with his former employer for an undisclosed amount earlier this month and received a check on Tuesday, according to the complaint obtained by Newsweek.

He went to cash it at a TCF Bank on Middlebelt Road Livonia, Michigan, at around 3 p.m. that same day to deposit the check, open a savings account and draw out some cash.

But the assistant branch manager "immediately appeared suspicious" of Thomas and told him the check would need to be verified, the complaint alleged.

The manager told him the bank's verification system was not working, so she would need to "call in the checks" to verify them, the complaint said. Instead, she called police to the scene and reported that Thomas was attempting to deposit fraudulent checks.

"How did you get this money?" she asked Thomas before she walked away from the counter, according to the complaint. He explained that it was from the settlement of a lawsuit.

According to the Detroit Free Press, Thomas settled the lawsuit with his former employer, Enterprise Leasing Company of Detroit, confidentially, so could not reveal the sum he received.

Thomas told the newspaper that he was humiliated after four police officers were called to the bank when all he was doing was trying to deposit a check at a bank where he has had an account for almost two years.

He added that he was questioned by two officers while two others stood outside. "I didn't deserve treatment like that when I knew that the check was not fraudulent," Thomas told the Free Press.

"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."

According to the lawsuit, Thomas provided officers with a business card for his attorney Deborah Gordon, who confirmed to them the details of the lawsuit and that her office had received the settlement check that day.

Gordon also spoke to the branch manager and told her that the check was to settle a lawsuit for racial discrimination against Thomas.

But the bank still refused to deposit the checks and filed a police report against Thomas for check fraud, the lawsuit said.

Gordon told Newsweek that the only thing Thomas was guilty of was "banking while black."

"My client is an African American male. The bank was immediately suspicious of him," she said.

"The checks were 100 percent legitimate. I talked to the bank and the police myself during all of this, but the bank continued to take the position that they could not complete the transaction. I find it shocking that they called the police. The only thing my client was guilty of was banking while black."

Gordon added that Thomas was "very intimidated and upset" about what was happened and feared he would be arrested.

"He kept his composure, though. He was afraid that with the police there the situation could quickly escalate and he would end up in handcuffs or worse," she said.

"The irony is that the proceeds were from the settlement of a race discrimination case."

Thomas ended up withdrawing the balance of his account at TCF Bank and closing it. An hour later, he opened an account at a Chase bank in Detroit and deposited the check there. The check cleared and the money was in his account early the following morning, the complaint said.

Thomas was not arrested and no charges were filed against him, the Free Press reported.

But he is seeking unspecified damages in his lawsuit against the bank, which alleges that "race was a factor" in the bank's decision to "treat him less favorably than other individuals, refuse to deposit his checks, accuse him of a crime, call the police to the scene and file a police report for possessing and/or trying to deposit fraudulent checks."

As a result of the bank's actions, Thomas "sustained injuries and damages including, but not limited to outrage and humiliation, mental anguish, anxiety, physical and emotional distress, and loss of the ordinary pleasures of everyday life."

"I will be vindicated because I didn't do anything wrong," Thomas added to the Free Press.

In a statement to Newsweek, TCF Bank apologized and said police should not have been called. "We apologize for the experience Mr. Thomas had at our banking center," the statement said.

"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."

Livonia Police Department have been contacted for comment.

This article has been updated with a statement from TCF Bank.

Thomas Sauntore
Sauntore Thomas is suing TCF Bank after staff there called the police on him when he went to deposit a check he received after settling a lawsuit with his former employer for racial discrimination. Deborah Gordon