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Civil Rights

Black Man Walks Into Livonia Bank to Cash Discrimination Check, Almost Gets Arrested

— January 24, 2020

Sauntore Thomas says that TCF Bank in Livonia didn’t believe his check–written for a discrimination case he’d recently settled–was real.

It’s an ordinary lawsuit compounded by an unbelievable backstory: on Tuesday, Sauntore Thomas, who’d recently won a discrimination claim against his former employer, went to the bank to deposit his settlement check.

But as Thomas talked to a teller at the Livonia, Michigan, branch of TCF Bank, a teller became suspicious. Instead of talking to Thomas or exercising garden-variety common sense, the teller called 911. He told law enforcement that he believed the 44-year old African-American man was trying to commit fraud.

Now Thomas, fresh out of litigation, is suing TCF for discrimination, too.

“I didn’t deserve treatment like that when I knew that the check was not fraudulent,” Thomas told The Detroit 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.”

TCF, adds The Hill, issued a public apology on January 23rd, the same day the Free Press published Thomas’s story.

Neon “Checks cashed” sign; image by Tony Webster from Oakland, California, CC BY 2.0, no changes.
Neon “Checks cashed” sign; image by Tony Webster from Oakland, California, CC BY 2.0, no changes.

“We apologize for the experience Mr. Thomas had at our banking center. Local police should not have been involved. We strongly condemn racism and discrimination of any kind,” TCF said in its statement. The bank added that it has anti-fraud precautions, which are activated whenever a customer attempts to deposit high-value checks or withdrew cash.

With its checks in place, TCF says it was unable to validate the checks presented by Thomas. So he called his lawyer, asking her to explain to the bank that the checks were from a civil settlement. TCF, though, wouldn’t take his attorney’s word for it.

“I got on the phone with the bank. I sent them my federal court complaint, to see that it matched. I did everything,” said Thomas’s attorney, Deborah Gordon.

Gordon said that TCF could’ve easily resolved the issue had it bothered calling the bank which issued the settlement checks. But because TCF didn’t build off its ordinary precautions, opting instead to take extraordinary counter-measures to what was otherwise a reasonable request.

“Obviously, assumptions were made the minute he walked in based on his race,” Gordon said. “It’s unbelievable that this guy got done with a race discrimination case and he’s not allowed to deposit the check based on his case? It’s absolutely outrageous.”

Thomas, says The New York Post, wasn’t arrested. But TCF had refused to honor his check—he was even told that the bank’s computers read the check as fraudulent.

But a half-day later, Thomas went to Detroit and opened an account with Chase bank, where the check cleared.

For now, Thomas seems haunted by the unexpected, apparent racism he faced at TCF, recalling his paralysis when police arrived.

“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,” Thomas said. “But I didn’t get loud […] I did nothing.”


After winning one discrimination lawsuit, a Detroit man walks into another

A Bank Wouldn’t Take His Bias Settlement Money. So He’s Suing.

Bank calls cops on black man trying to cash check from discrimination lawsuit

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