Facebook | Sauntore Thomas

Bank Calls Cops On Black Man Trying To Deposit Racial Discrimination Settlement

Sauntore Thomas thought he had finally reached the end of an exhausting and emotional process when a new exhausting and emotional process dropped in his lap, courtesy of his bank.

The 44-year-old Detroit resident had just settled a lawsuit for racial discrimination against his former employer.

Detroit Free Press | Law Firm of Deborah Gordon

And so, with the settlement checks in hand, he walked into his bank, TCF, and tried to deposit the money into his account. That's when the trouble started, the Detroit Free Press reported.

Thomas said that he was questioned and treated with suspicion almost immediately after requesting to deposit some of the money, open a new savings account, withdraw some cash, and order a new debit card.

TCF's assistant branch manager, Erika Mack, explained that the checks would have to be verified, but said that the computerized verification system was down that day.

Facebook | TCF Bank

So, she explained, she would have to make a call to verify the checks, and asked him where the checks were from. He told her they were the result of a lawsuit settlement and told her he would wait while she did what she needed to do.

However, 10 minutes later, four Livonia police officers showed up, two in the lobby, and two just outside the doors.

At that point, Thomas said that he had to be very mindful of his reactions.

Unsplash | Fred Moon

The Air Force veteran said that as he spoke with the police, he tried to remain calm.

"I didn't give them any type of indication that I was getting upset," he told BuzzFeed News. "I wanted to make sure I stayed as levelheaded as possible, because I wasn't going to be the next person on the ground saying, 'I can't breathe.'"

Thomas got his lawyer, Deborah Gordon, on the phone, who spoke with both the bank and with police trying to explain the situation and provide evidence that the checks were legitimate.


"I sent them my federal court complaint, to see that it matched. I did everything," Gordon told the Detroit Free Press. "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.

"They could have just called the bank that issued the checks, and they apparently didn't do anything because it would have all been verified immediately."

However, a TCF spokesperson says the bank did indeed try to do its due diligence on the checks.

Facebook | TCF Bank

TCF's Tom Wennerberg said that the bank contacted Thomas's former employer to verify the checks. "They couldn't verify that those checks were due to a settlement," he said, and added that the checks displayed a "VOID" watermark when they tried to scan them in a web viewer.

Many check printers will include a "VOID" watermark that only shows up when scanned or photocopied as a security measure.

In the end, TCF refused Thomas's checks.

Facebook | Sauntore Thomas

Gordon's call was not enough for them, nor was the evidence she provided. "[The assistant bank manager] basically said, 'We can't even prove that was your lawyer on the phone we were talking to," Thomas told BuzzFeed News.

"And I said, 'OK, if you're going to treat me like this, and I'm a customer, and I have an account. That is not right. There's no reason why I have to do business with you at all — I have to close my account."

Thomas did indeed close his account on the spot.

Facebook | Sauntore Thomas

Within an hour he had walked down the street and opened an account with Chase. His checks cleared within 12 hours, and with no issues.

Now, Thomas is suing TCF for racial discrimination, saying he feels victimized again. "It was embarrassing," he told WXYZ. "If I was white, this wouldn't be happening."

Gordon concurred, saying "Something else was afoot here. And in my opinion there's only one thing: banking while black."

TCF strongly denies any racial discrimination.

"We disagree with that," Wennerberg said. "We were looking at the behavior, the asks that he was making."

In a statement, the bank said that "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."

However, TCF also issued an apology for involving the police in the matter.

It looks like an apology will not be enough for Thomas, as he's going forward with a lawsuit.

Facebook | Sauntore Thomas

"I want to be vindicated," he said. "I feel very intimidated because I knew that 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 confrontational. I did nothing. 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."

h/t: Detroit Free Press, BuzzFeed News, WXYZ