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A black man in the US received a settlement in a race discrimination lawsuit. When he tried to cash the cheque, the bank called the cops, prompting a second racial discrimination case.

Kelly McLaughlin , Business Insider US
 Jan 23, 2020, 09:36 PM
Sauntore Thomas
Sauntore Thomas.

  • Sauntore Thomas, 44, of Detroit, Michigan in the US has filed a racial discrimination against TCF Bank, according to the Detroit Free Press.
  • He said the bank refused to accept cheques he received in a settlement from a separate racial discrimination lawsuit he had filed against his employer, Enterprise Leasing Company.
  • He said the bank accused him of fraud and called police to investigate the cheques.
  • Thomas said the cheques were real, and he was able to deposit them at a Chase Bank hours later.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

A black man in Detroit in the US has filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against a bank after its staff refused to cash cheques from a settlement he received in a separate racial discrimination suit.

Sauntore Thomas, 44, told the Detroit Free Press that he had sued his employer, Enterprise Leasing Company, for racial discrimination, and the case was later settled outside court for an undisclosed amount of money.

Thomas said that when he went to a TCF Bank branch in Livonia, Michigan, on Tuesday to cash cheques from the settlement, employees refused to deposit them and instead called the cops, accusing Thomas of fraud.

The incident lead Thomas to call his lawyer, Deborah Gordon, and initiate a second racial discrimination suit, this time against TCF Bank, a predominately Midwestern chain of banks. He said the Livonia branch humiliated him. The case was filed in state court on Wednesday, Gordon told Insider.

TCF Bank spokesman Tom Wennerberg told the Free Press that racism was not at play when Thomas's cheques were turned down.

He said that when staff evaluated the cheques on a computer, they found a watermark that read "VOID," and wanted to confirm the cheques were valid through a police investigation. In emails between police and Gordon seen by the Free Press, a police officer said the cheques were deemed fraudulent by the bank's computer, and that the cheques looked different from Enterprise's payroll checks.

Thomas disputed the watermark accusation, saying he was able to clear the cheques at a Chase Bank after opening an account at a location 12 hours later. He then closed his TCF Bank account.

Thomas did not disclose how much the cheques were worth because of a confidentiality agreement. Bank spokesperson Wennerberg said the cheques were worth $59,000, $27,000 and $13,000, a total of around R1.4 million.

"I didn't deserve treatment like that when I knew that the cheque 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."

Thomas, who is suing TCF Bank for unspecified damages, told the Free Press that he used money from his original settlement to buy a car, since he previously had walked to work.

Gordon called the incident "outrageous" in a comment to the Free Press.

In a comment to Insider, Gordon said TCF Bank was "immediately suspicious" of the cheques Thomas had presented.

"Of course, the cheques were clearly legitimate. My client was intimidated, upset and embarrassed. He kept his composure, though," she told Insider. "He was afraid that with the police there the situation could quickly escalate and he would end up in handcuffs or worse. The irony is that the proceeds were from the settlement of a race discrimination case."

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