You can try your boyfriend. You can try your wife. You can try that vegan diet your one annoying friend swears by. But don’t you dare try Sauntore Thomas from Detroit.
Thomas, who recently won a racial discrimination lawsuit against his former employer, Enterprise Leasing Company of Detroit, received his settlement checks this week. Thinking he could finally put the ordeal between him and his former job behind him, the 44-year-old went to a Livonia, Mich., branch of TCF bank to deposit the money.
But, as the Detroit Free Press first reported, the errand ended with the bank calling the cops on Thomas, suspecting him of fraud. Police didn’t end up arresting or filing charges against Thomas, but the incident was enough to spark another racial discrimination suit, this one filed by Thomas against TCF bank.
According to Thomas, he went into the bank on Tuesday afternoon to deposit his checks and open an additional savings account. He gave his checks to Assistant Branch Manager Erika Mack—one check for $59,000, one for $27,000, and another for $13,000.
Mack “immediately appeared suspicious” of Thomas’ requests, the Free Press writes and told him she would need to verify the checks herself since the bank’s computerized “verification system” was not working. She also asked Thomas where he got the money, before heading to a back area of the bank to sort out whether the checks were valid.
But Thomas says Mack never tried to complete the transaction. Instead, she called Livonia police to report potential fraud. Within ten minutes of returning to the counter, four cops were on scene at the bank.
Thomas told BuzzFeed News he instantly went into survival mode once police arrived.
“I didn’t give them any type of indication that I was getting upset,” Thomas told the outlet. “I wanted to make sure I stayed as level headed as possible because I wasn’t going to be the next person on the ground saying, ‘I can’t breathe.’”
The story about what happened to Thomas went viral instantaneously, prompting TCF to publicly apologize to Thomas, telling the Free Press Thursday afternoon, “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,” the bank said.
TCF Bank spokesman Tom Wennerberg maintained that racism did not play into Thomas’ treatment. Assistant Manager Mack is, herself, African American, he said, and the checks Thomas tried to deposit displayed a “VOID” watermark when scanned in a web viewer. Wennerberg said the unusual nature of Thomas’ request also raised red flags—telling the Associated Press Thomas’ account was nearly empty and had no recent activity.
But Wennerberg conceded the bank should have deposited Thomas’ checks and told him there would be “an extended hold until we could validate the source of the funds and the validity of them.”
Thomas and his attorney, Deborah Gordon, don’t accept the bank’s explanation.
“They could have just called the bank that issued the checks,” Gordon said. “They apparently didn’t do anything because it would have all been verified immediately. Gordon said Thomas called her while he was at the bank to explain that the checks were legal. The bank, apparently, didn’t believe her.
“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.”
For now, another bank will be taking care of Thomas, who closed his account with TCF and is currently seeking unspecified damages from the bank. On the same day as the TCF debacle, Thomas went to a Detroit Chase branch, where he opened an account and successfully deposited his settlement checks. According to Thomas, his checks cleared 12 hours later.