When Satara Monroe tried to cash a paycheck at a local Wells Fargo, the teller called the cops on her. An hourlong police interrogation ended only when her boss drove to the Pompano Beach branch to personally verify the check was legitimate. Finally, two hours after walking through the bank's doors, Monroe got her cash.
It's not exactly an unusual experience for black Wells Fargo customers. Monroe, age 40, is the third South Floridian in recent months to sue the banking giant for racial discrimination.
"Banking while black — that was Ms. Monroe’s crime," reads her complaint filed earlier this month in federal court. "Ms. Monroe’s story is just another chapter in the tragic tale of the weaponization of 911."
In a statement to New Times, a Wells Fargo spokesperson disputed the claims.
“Wells Fargo opposes discrimination of any kind, and strongly denies Ms. Monroe’s allegations," Michelle Palomino wrote. "The complaint is simply not accurate in describing the events, and Wells Fargo looks forward to defending this matter in court.”
Monroe's ordeal happened in February 2015, but she brushed it off as an anomaly at first, says her attorney, Yechezkel Rodal. But after seeing a seemingly endless series of stories about police being called on black people for things as mundane as barbecuing, sitting at Starbucks, and banking, she decided to do something.
She contacted Rodal after reading about an internationally publicized case of his that sounded strikingly familiar: A black woman claimed she had tried to cash a check at a Wells Fargo in Fort Lauderdale, only to have the tellers refuse and threaten to call police.
"She eventually started seeing these stories and said, 'You know what? It wasn't a one-off thing,'" Rodal says of Monroe.
According to the complaint, Monroe went to the bank to cash a check from her employer, a Coral Springs-based agency called IMBG Marketing, LLC. She provided two forms of identification to the teller — a young white woman. Monroe also endorsed the back of the paycheck.
But after all of that, the teller told her the check could not be cashed. When pressed, the teller claimed she had called the business owner to confirm the check and was told it was fraudulent. Monroe called her boss, Jacquez Tullis, who said he never got a call. He spoke with the teller to no avail, and Monroe was taken into an office.
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Alarmed, Tullis drove to a Tamarac Wells Fargo where he regularly did business and spoke with the manager. The manager called the Pompano Beach branch, but the tellers there still refused to cash the check. So Tullis got back into his car and drove to that location.
The teller called 911 and told the dispatcher there was a "fraud in progress." Tullis was still on his way over — and on the phone with Monroe — when three Broward Sheriff's deputies pulled up. They accused Monroe of fraud and asked her who her accomplice was.
When Tullis arrived and spoke with the deputies, they finally decided there was no fraud, and Monroe was allowed to leave. But she'd already suffered deep humiliation and distress, her attorney says.
"They treated her like a common criminal," Rodal says, "and all she was doing was trying to cash a paycheck."