Sauntore Thomas tried to deposit settlement checks from racial discrimination lawsuit; Detroit-based TCF Bank called Livonia cops on him
Thomas files second lawsuit against TCF–“Banking while Black”
“I wanted to make sure I stayed as levelheaded as possible, because I wasn’t going to be the next person on the ground saying, ‘I can’t breathe'”– Thomas
Storm of tweets: “Everyone knows that TCF hates Black people. Boycott the Grand Wizards of banking.” “Time to boycott TCF Bank.” #BoycottTCF
$45 billion TCF Financial Corporation, headquartered in Detroit, with subsidiary in Livonia
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan renamed Cobo Hall “TCF Center” in alleged move against racism despite his own record
By Diane Bukowski
January 25, 2020
DETROIT — The story of Black Detroiter Sauntore Thomas’ arrest by Livonia cops, called in by TCF Bank officials, for trying to deposit checks from the settlement of a racial discrimination lawsuit, has gone viral, covered by virtually every major news outlet across the U.S.
NewsOne gathered angry tweets from across the country responding to those stories, including:
“Everyone knows that TCF hates Black people. Boycott the Grand Wizards of banking.”
“Time to boycott TCF Bank.” #BoycottTCF
“Nothing that Mr. Thomas asked for was “unusual” the only thing that was unusual was that a Black man with three checks amounting to $97,000 walked into their bank.”
“TCF is the name of the bank that called the cops on the brother who won a settlement against guess?? racism! if you are Black change banks. Black power!”
“ I hope his lawsuit causes this racist bank to shut down….”
Thomas has now sued TCF, whose parent company, the TCF Corporation, is headquartered in Detroit. It recently merged with Chemical Bank, making the new TCF bank the 27th-largest in the U.S., with $45 billion in assets, over 500 branches, and 10,000 employees.
Crains Detroit said, “Chemical Bank was already by far the largest bank headquartered in Detroit since announcing its move to the city from Midland in 2016, filling a void left by Comerica Inc. in 2007 when the bank with roots in Detroit predating the Civil War moved its corporate headquarters to Dallas.”
Crain’s also pointed to the Livonia-based TCF Equipment subsidiary, which grew from making $100 million for TCF in 1999 to $5 billion annually.
Chemical Bank, now merged with TCF, received a $17 million tax subsidy from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to build its new headquarters, with more than $16 million coming from state school taxes and $621,000 in local tax captures, approved by the Detroit City Council. Available local and state school capture for the project actually totaled nearly $34 million.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan last year renamed the city’s downtown Cobo Hall convention center “The TCF Center,” allegedly to counter the racism embodied in the use of former Detroit Mayor Albert Cobo’s name.
Duggan said, “This center ha[d] been named for an individual who was responsible for policies that moved large numbers of African Americans out of their homes, out of their business with no place to go — in the name of urban renewal.”
But Duggan has himself long been denounced by many Black business owners and homeowners in Detroit for the same practices.
In 2015, VOD reported, “Black Detroit business-owners, cab drivers, homeowners, city retirees opposing the takeover of the Detroit water department and water shut-offs, and residents campaigning for streetlights rallied July 21 against what they called ‘The Great Black-Out’ of Detroit,” Protesters said Duggan and other government officials were aiding a reverse “white flight” INTO the city by corporate and banking vultures.
Marcus Cummings, who chaired the rally, said, “We were here long before Dan Gilbert.”
Bert Dearing, owner of Bert’s Entertainment Complex in Eastern Market, was one of the protest leaders, battling efforts to oust his establishment from its locale, as his jazz venues have previously been ousted from W. Jefferson and Broadway Aves. in downtown Detroit over the past decades.
“I’ve done business in Detroit for over 47 years,” Dearing, Jr. said during the rally against the “Black-Out” of Detroit July 15. “My club was at 150 W. Jefferson beginning in 1957, but I was displaced from there and forced to move to Eastern Market. What programs is our government putting together for people of color to survive in Detroit?”
Bert’s was on the auction block at the time, but Dearing fought back with a federal lawsuit alleging fraud against the proposed buyers, some associated with Dan Gilbert. See VOD story on lawsuit at http://voiceofdetroit.net/2015/09/30/federal-lawsuit-alleging-fraud-unclean-hands-forestalls-seizure-of-berts-marketplace/.
TCF’S half-hearted apology bodes ill for Blacks and Detroiters
The half-hearted, arrogant apology TCF issued for Thomas’ arrest should alert Blacks, Detroiters and businesses owned by people of color, to the likelihood of future problems in dealings with TCF.
“We strongly condemn racism and discrimination of any kind,” TCF spokesman Tom Wennenberg told the Detroit Free Press..
“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.”
BuzzFeed News reporter Jullia Reinstein interviewed Sauntore Thomas, 44, Jan. 23.
“A man who tried to deposit a settlement check from a workplace racial discrimination lawsuit said he was again discriminated against for being Black, this time by the bank, who called the police on him over accusations the check was fraudulent,” Reinstein wrote.
Reinstein said Thomas told her he had just confidentially settled the lawsuit against Enterprise Rent-a-Car in Detroit and wanted to open a savings account at the TCF Livonia branch, where he had been a customer since 2018. He said he told bank employees he wanted to deposit his settlement money and withdraw some of it.
Instead, the assistant bank manager “treated him suspiciously, even asking him how he got the money in the first place,” Thomas told Reinstein. The manager said she needed to verify the checks. and Thomas said he would wait in the lobby.
“Ten minutes later, the Livonia Police show up,” Thomas recounted. He said he told the four officers, “‘This is crazy, I literally just got them from my lawyer’s office.'”
Thomas said he thought about the large numbers of Blacks killed in police encounters over past years, and did his best to stay calm in a “very stressful and unpredictable situation.”
“I didn’t give them any type of indication that I was getting upset,” he said. “I wanted to make sure I stayed as levelheaded as possible, because I wasn’t going to be the next person on the ground saying, ‘I can’t breathe.'”
Reinstein reported that Thomas’ prominent attorney Deborah Gordon spoke to the police and the bank manager, providing lawsuit documents and the bottom half of the check pay stub.
“[The assistant bank manager] basically said, ‘We can’t even prove that was your lawyer on the phone we were talking to,'” Thomas said.
“And I said, ‘OK, if you’re going to treat me like this, and I’m a customer, and I have an account. That is not right. There’s no reason why I have to do business with you at all — I have to close my account,'” Thomas told Reinstein.
Thomas said he closed his TCF account on the spot, then took his checks to Chase Bank, which opened an account for him with no problem. The checks cleared the next day.
Now, Thomas has filed a lawsuit against the bank, saying his “race was a factor” in how he was treated at the bank. He is asking for damages for “mental anguish” and “humiliation.”
Even after his attorney called the bank to validate the checks, the suit states, “TCF Bank subsequently filed a police report against Plaintiff for check fraud.”
The lawsuit says Thomas was humiliated by the incident and suffered mental anguish and emotional distress. He is seeking damages.
Gordon told Reinstein she believes her client was in fact discriminated against for “banking while Black.”
“This is just another classic example of what it’s like living your life as a Black male,” she said. “The checks are for real. Why was there an issue? Why could you not verify them? You’re a bank, after all — it’s your job to verify checks.”