After winning a settlement from his former employer for racial discrimination, the Detroit resident went to cash the settlement check at a TCF Bank where he has been a loyal customer for nearly two years.
However, a TCF employee at the Livonia branch refused to deposit or cash Thomas' check, and instead called the police to launch a fraud investigation.
Thomas believes the reason the bank refused to help him is because he is Black.
Once again, Thomas found himself in a familiar situation.
Black man files racial discrimination lawsuit and wins. Goes to his bank (TCF Bank) to deposit settlement check an… https://t.co/9hQFQA3POK— Susan Basko (@Susan Basko)1579811080.0
The U.S. veteran felt humiliated as two cops interrogated him in a holding room while two other officers waited outside.
Thomas sued TCF Bank on Wednesday, citing racial discrimination.
No friends. This isn't from the Onion. No, it isn't an SNL sketch. It didn't happen in 1953 or 1978 or 1997 This h… https://t.co/gX2lISDULX— Jeff Levine (@Jeff Levine)1579805892.0
@JamilSmith @soledadobrien And I hope he gets another check. https://t.co/q0nvKwbN80— Tyler C (@Tyler C)1579800306.0
He told the Detroit Free Press:
"I didn't deserve treatment like that when I knew that the check was not fraudulent."
"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."
Even those who were not POC acknowledged their white privilege.
@JamilSmith @soledadobrien I'm white. I know this would never happen to me. When my husband was away & the local te… https://t.co/73QHiYLmwT— YouAintRight (@YouAintRight)1579800638.0
Police alleged that his check registered as fraudulent by the branch's computer system.
TCF Bank spokesman Tom Wennerberg said that the check the bank received had a watermark that read, "VOID," when scanned through a web viewer.
@tomgara @juliareinstein I like the banks explanation that there was a “VOID” watermark on the check. Right. Beca… https://t.co/k28JOQWAzP— kingdom krumb (@kingdom krumb)1579808988.0
The appearance of "VOID" is also known as a "hidden word" technology.
"This feature makes it extremely difficult for counterfeiters to reproduce checks or documents on color copiers or scanners. The word 'VOID' appears when copied or scanned."
@kingdomkrumb @tomgara @juliareinstein https://t.co/J8Lx2NRgr7— Eric Sandeen (@Eric Sandeen)1579810958.0
Wennerberg said that the bank was presented with three checks from Thomas's former employer, Enterprise Leasing Company of Detroit, in the following amounts of $59,000, $27,000, and $13,000.
"They couldn't verify that those checks were due to a settlement."
Wennerberg maintained the bank did not engage in any discriminatory behavior, but pointed out that the bank manager who assisted Thomas was skeptical about his request to deposit the two larger checks in an account that only had 52 cents.
Thomas also had asked for a new debit card because his old one was not working anymore. The latter request, according to Wennerberg, "sounded unusual."
@JamilSmith Groundhog Day but for institutional racism.— Ade D. Adeniji (@Ade D. Adeniji)1579801577.0
@elle91 Bank teller: This check is for a large amount, sir. Sauntore Thomas: It's the settlement for a racial discr… https://t.co/7VXnS1nt6t— Steve Oglesby (@Steve Oglesby)1579814239.0
While at the branch, Thomas contacted his employment law attorney, Deborah Gordon, so that she could authenticate the settlement check over the phone.
But the bank refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the check.
Gordon suspected the bank treated Thomas differently because of the color of his skin.
"I got on the phone with the bank. I sent them my federal court complaint, to see that it matched. I did everything."
"Obviously, assumptions were made the minute he walked in based on his race."
@JamilSmith @soledadobrien So messed up. How is this the world we live in?— Jerry Kelley (@Jerry Kelley)1579799630.0
She was appalled, given her client's recent ordeal dealing with discrimination.
"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."
Wennerberg also added that the bank manager who waited on Thomas happened to be African American, and that she called the police because something "didn't look right."
@JamilSmith If my bank ever asked me where I got my money, I would fire my bank. It's none of their business. And… https://t.co/qcMouXkAly— julia G (@julia G)1579801793.0
Thomas was not arrested, nor were any charges filed.
But he remained calm despite being afraid during 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 did nothing."
The great @juliareinstein spoke with Sauntore Thomas about what was going through his head at the bank. "I wanted t… https://t.co/OUbdQ9FDW4— Tom Gara (@Tom Gara)1579807741.0
Thomas closed his account with TCF Bank that day and walked over to Chase Bank to open an account with them.
He then deposited his checks into his new account and money was made available to him within twelve hours.
The vet – who does not own a car and walks to work – used the cash to buy a 2004 Dodge Durango.
@JamilSmith I hope he gets more money!— butterflifusion (@butterflifusion)1579805920.0
On Thursday, TCF bank issued a statement of apology.
"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."
"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."
Thomas' case is similar to another incident involving racial discrimination in which an indigenous man and his 12-year-old granddaughter claimed they were racially profiled while trying to open an account at a Bank of Montreal in Vancouver back in December.