A black man in Michigan tried to deposit checks at his bank. The manager called police.

Ironically, the checks that Sauntore Thomas tried to deposit were from a settlement for a racial discrimination lawsuit against his former employer.
Image:
Sauntore Thomas, right, and his lawyer, Deborah Gordon, left, on Jan. 23, 2020 in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.Mike Householder / AP

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By Minyvonne Burke

An African American man who went to his local bank in Michigan to deposit checks had the police called on him by a branch manager suspecting fraud.

Ironically, the checks, totaling $99,000, that Sauntore Thomas, 44, sought to deposit at TCF Bank in Livonia were part of a court settlement for a racial discrimination lawsuit against his former employer.

Now Thomas, an Air Force veteran, has sued his bank's holding company, TCF Financial Corp., alleging racial discrimination.

The suit filed by Thomas this week in Wayne County Circuit Court says he has had a checking account at the bank since 2018, and he went there on Tuesday asking the branch manager to open a savings account for him so he could deposit the checks.

But the manager became suspicious that the checks were fraudulent and questioned Thomas about where he got them, the suit alleges.

The manager told Thomas that the checks would need to be verified, but that the computer system the bank uses to verify checks was not working. In order to complete Thomas' transaction, the manager said she would need to go in the back and "call in the checks," the suit says.

Instead of trying to verify the checks, the suit claims that the manager refused to deposit them and then went into the back to call Livonia police. Four officers arrived at the bank and questioned Thomas about the checks.

Thomas called his lawyer on the phone to have her verify where he got the checks from but that still did not satisfy the branch manager.

"Defendant still refused to deposit the checks," the suit states. "TCF Bank subsequently filed a police report against Plaintiff for check fraud."

Thomas eventually left the bank and went somewhere else to deposit his checks. The lawsuit claims that Thomas' race "was a factor in Defendant's decision to treat him less favorably than other individuals."

Thomas reiterated that sentiment during an interview with The Associated Press.

“They did not want to assist me because I was African American. They didn’t want to assist me because they assumed that I had a fraudulent check, which was far from the truth," he told the outlet, adding, "This was no mistake."

A spokesman for TCF did not immediately return NBC News' request for comment.

Bank spokesman Tom Wennerberg told the Detroit Free Press that the branch manager is African American and that Thomas' race was not a factor.

The bank also told the news outlet in a statement that the police should not have been called on Thomas and that it apologizes for what happened.

“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.”

The lawsuit says Thomas was humiliated by the incident and suffered mental anguish and emotional distress. He is seeking damages.