Bank accused of bias for not taking veteran's checks

LIVONIA (AP) — A black Air Force veteran who tried to deposit settlement checks from a discrimination lawsuit was rejected by his suburban Detroit bank, which suspected fraud and called police.

After settling a lawsuit with his former employer, Sauntore Thomas now is suing TCF Bank, alleging racial discrimination.

“They discriminated against me because I'm black. None of this would have happened if I were white,” Thomas, 44, told the Detroit Free Press.

TCF spokesman Tom Wennerberg denied racial discrimination and said Thomas had a 52-cent balance in his account and was making a “highly unusual request” on Jan 21 with three checks that totaled $99,000.

Wennerberg said Thomas wanted to deposit two checks but immediately cash a third check for $13,000. He told the Free Press that the checks displayed a watermark that read “VOID” when they were scanned.

Wennerberg said an assistant manager at the TCF branch, who is black, called Livonia police because something didn’t “look right.” Four officers arrived, though police took no action against Thomas.

Thomas’ lawyer, Deborah Gordon, provided documents to show that her client had been involved in a lawsuit. But she said it didn’t allay TCF's concerns.

“We apologize for the experience Mr. Thomas had at our banker center. Local police should not have been involved,” TCF said in a statement Thursday.

“We strongly condemn racism and discrimination of any kind,” the bank said. “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.”

Wennerberg told The Associated Press that the checks should have been accepted with the caveat that there might be an “extended hold” on the money until the checks could be validated.

Thomas closed his TCF account and took the checks to a Chase Bank, where he said they cleared in his new account in 12 hours.

He said he felt intimidated when police arrived.

“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 didn’t get confrontational. I did nothing. ... I will be vindicated because I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Gordon, a prominent Detroit-area labor law attorney, said the episode was “insane.”

“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,” she said.