The Discrimination Lawsuit That Led to a Discrimination Lawsuit

On January 21, 2020, a 44-year-old man named Sauntore Thomas, pictured above, did something that people do every day — he went into the bank to deposit money into his savings account. He only had 52 cents in the account at the time, but that shouldn’t have mattered much, as he had in his possession three checks, all made out to him, from a local leasing company, in the amounts of $59,000, $27,000, and $13,000. That’s a sizeable amount of money — just a hair short of six figures — and a deposit that any bank should welcome.

But in this case, the bank didn’t welcome Thomas or his money. Instead, they called the police.

The bank’s explanation was that they suspected fraud. The police took the complaint seriously, as the New York Times reported: Thomas “was questioned by two Livonia Police Department officers in the lobby for about an hour.” But the bank did not offer any particular reason why they suspected Thomas was up to no good. Thomas, though, had a theory: as a Black man, he believed he was being discriminated against.

And it wouldn’t be the first time — in fact, it wasn’t even the first time in that very moment. Anti-Black bias is what brought Thomas into the bank in the first place. As ABC News reported, “Thomas was attempting to deposit [three] large checks that he’d received as part of a workplace racial discrimination settlement with his previous employer.”

So, Thomas, fresh off a winning discrimination lawsuit against his former employer, filed another one, this time against the bank that just rejected his perfectly valid checks and treated him like a criminal. The bank quickly apologized, and per the Washington Post noted that “rather than turning Thomas away and calling the police, [a bank spokesperson] said, the bank’s assistant branch manager should have ‘deposited the checks and informed the customer that there would be an extended hold until we could validate the source of the funds and the validity of them.’”

Thomas accepted the bank’s apology — per CNN, met with the bank’s corporate chairman and, through his attorney, stated that he “was comfortable with their assurances that the incident that occurred was an unfortunate mistake and is not reflective of the way the bank does business.” But he isn’t likely to experience that first hand. As the Detroit Free Press reported, “Thomas closed his [bank] account that day and left the premises. Within an hour, he deposited the checks into a new account at [a new] bank in Detroit. They cleared within 12 hours. Thomas, who had no car and walked to work, used the money to buy a 2004 Dodge Durango.”

Bonus fact: In 1957, famed civil rights activist Rosa Parks moved from Alabama to Detroit (by way of Virginia) — her work to end segregation had made it difficult for her and her family to find work in Alabama. She’d live there for the rest of her life, but not without incident. On August 30, 1994, she was the victim of an assault and robbery in her home, and did not feel comfortable living in her apartment thereafter. She was able to move, in part, because of pizza. As CNN reported, “federal judge [Damon] Keith, himself an important legal figure in the civil rights movement, worked to find Parks a new, safer apartment at the Riverfront Apartments in Detroit,” and that hit the local newspapers. Mike Illitch, the founder of the Little Caesars pizza chain, saw the news and wanted to get involved. Per CNN, “Ilitch read the story in the newspaper and called Keith, offering to pay for Parks’ housing indefinitely. With no fanfare, Ilitch continued paying for the apartment until Parks died in 2005.”

From the Archives: The Detroit Gang That Mows the Grass: It’s a gang, but for good.