A Detroit man is seeking legal action against a local bank that he says discriminated against him when he recently attempted to cash checks from a previous racial discrimination lawsuit.
Sauntore Thomas sued TCF Bank in Wayne County, Michigan on Wednesday after claiming that they refused to deposit his checks and treated him unfairly due to his race, according to a complaint filed in state court by his lawyer Deborah Gordon and obtained by PEOPLE.
Ironically, the checks Thomas, 44, was trying to cash at the time were from a previous racial discrimination lawsuit that he settled with his former employer on Jan. 13, the complaint states.
A spokesperson for TCF Bank did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
According to the complaint, Thomas, a U.S. Air Force veteran who was honorably discharged in 1998, went to TCF Bank on Jan. 21 to deposit the checks. The Detroit resident had an account open with the bank since 2018, the complaint indicated.
TCF Bank spokesman Tom Wennerberg reportedly told the Detroit Free Press that Thomas had three separate checks of various amounts to cash — one for $59,000, another for $27,000 and the last for $13,000.
While at the counter, Thomas told the assistant branch manager that he “would like to open a savings account, deposit the checks, and draw out some cash.” He also requested that the bank “provide him a new debit card, as the CCV number was no longer visible on his old card,” the complaint states.
However, Thomas claims in the complaint that his requests were met with suspicion and denial.
In the document, he alleged that the female employee told him that the checks needed to be verified, but claimed their system was down. She later asked him how he obtained the money and then went into a back area to “call in the checks” but secretly called Livonia Police instead to report that Thomas was “attempting to deposit fraudulent checks.”
Four officers arrived at the scene to investigate the matter, citing reports of “a problem” with Thomas’ checks by the employee, according to the complaint.
Thomas explained that the checks were part of his lawsuit that he received earlier that day and provided the information of his lawyer, who says she spoke to authorities on the phone to confirm her client’s story.
Despite Gordon’s support, the bank refused to deposit the checks and “subsequently filed a police report” for check fraud, the complaint states.
The Livonia Police Department did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
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Frustrated, Thomas withdrew all the money from his open account at TCF bank, before closing it and leaving, according to the document.
Not long after, he went to a different bank, opened a new account, and successfully deposited his checks, which were cleared the next morning, according to the complaint.
Speaking to PEOPLE on Thursday, Gordon says, “The checks he presented at the bank were 100% legitimate. I got on the phone with the bank and also with the police who had been called and explained everything.”
“It did not matter,” Gordon continues of Thomas, who she said had never been arrested or involved with the law enforcement. “My client was intimidated and afraid but kept his composure. The ordeal lasted about 1 and ½ hours. He left the bank empty-handed with no explanation and no apology.”
“Another bank in Detroit took the checks, deposited them in the normal manner and the money was available to him 12 hours later,” Gordon adds. “He was clearly stereotyped based on his race.”
Thomas is now suing TCF Bank, claiming in the complaint that his race was a “factor in [the bank’s] decision to treat him less favorably than other individuals, refuse to deposit his checks, accuse him of a crime, call the police to the scene, and file a police report for possessing and/or trying to deposit fraudulent checks.”
He is seeking compensatory, punitive and liquidated damages from the incident, which caused him “outrage and humiliation, mental anguish, anxiety, physical and emotional distress, and loss of the ordinary pleasures of life.”
In a statement to the Detroit Free Press, TCF Bank apologized for the incident and involving local authorities.
“We apologize for the experience Mr. Thomas had at our banker center. Local police should not have been involved. 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.”
“TCF Bank is a diverse business serving a diverse community and we abhor racism in all forms,” the bank added. “Mr. Thomas’ transaction was handled like any other transactions involving requests for large amounts of cash. We regret any inconvenience to Mr. Thomas.”
Wennerberg also spoke to the outlet and argued that the bank was taking precautionary actions because they were unable to verify the checks were part of a lawsuit and it was a “highly, highly unusual request.”
The bank spokesperson alleged Thomas only had 52 cents in the account he wanted to deposit two checks into, that he wanted to cash the $13,000 check, and that he claimed his debit card wasn’t working so he needed a new one, according to the Detroit Free Press.
“We disagree with that,” Wennerberg told the local outlet of whether they engaged in discriminatory actions. “We were looking at the behavior, the asks that he was making.”
Since the dramatic ordeal unfolded on Tuesday, the fraud complaint with the police had been closed, Gordon confirmed.
Now her client is simply demanding racial justice again, for the second time in less than eight months.
“I didn’t deserve treatment like that when I knew that the check was not fraudulent,” Thomas told the Detroit Free Press. “They discriminated against me because I’m black. None of this would have happened if I were white.”