‘Banking while black’: Woman sues Wells Fargo alleging teller refused to cash her check

All Satara Monroe wanted to do was cash her paycheck, make a stop at the grocery store and go home.

But she said her plans were ruined when a bank teller at a Pompano Beach Wells Fargo accused her of committing fraud. The quick errand turned into an hour-long interrogation by police, according to a lawsuit filed Nov. 5 in federal court in South Florida.

“I felt targeted,” Monroe told the Miami Herald Monday. “There wasn’t anyone else being harassed the way I was harassed.”

Michelle Palomino, a spokeswoman for Wells Fargo, said in a statement, “Wells Fargo opposes discrimination of any kind, and strongly denies Ms. Monroe’s allegations.”

“The complaint is simply not accurate in describing the events, and Wells Fargo looks forward to defending this matter in court,” she said.

Monroe, 40, who is black, said she turned to a lawyer after seeing similar stories of black people being discriminated against while banking with Wells Fargo. She said she wanted the bank to “be held accountable” for what happened to her that day in February 2015.

“Banking while black — that was Ms. Monroe’s crime,” her attorney Yechezkel Rodal wrote in the suit. “Ms. Monroe’s story is just another chapter in the tragic tale of the weaponization of 911.”

According to Rodal, Monroe, who works for a marketing firm, went to a Pompano Beach branch to cash her check and presented two forms of ID because she is not a customer. She also left her fingerprint on the check, a standard practice for non-customers. The check was drawn on a Wells Fargo account.

But Rodal said what happened next was troubling.

“The teller then told Ms. Monroe that she could not cash the check and handed it back to her,” Rodal wrote in the suit. According to the suit, the teller, a white woman, told Monroe that she called the owner of the firm — the person on the check — to verify, and told Monroe the owner said the check was fraudulent.

Monroe called her boss, and he said he never received a phone call from Wells Fargo. He even spoke to the teller on the phone, at Monroe’s behest, but Monroe was still escorted to a room by the branch manager. In the room, at least four Broward Sheriff’s Office deputies confronted her, Monroe said.

“They asked me who my getaway driver was, who I was working with,” she said. “I just didn’t understand what was going on.”

Meanwhile, her boss went to the Wells Fargo in Tamarac — the closest branch to his office — to try to clear things up. He then went to the branch where Monroe was, according to the suit.

Eventually, the bank cleared Monroe and she cashed her check.

Wells Fargo has been accused of similar actions by other minorities.

In 2017, Barbara Carroll, 78, filed suit after she said she was accused of forgery at a Fort Lauderdale branch, according to the Washington Post. Carroll, who is black, tried to cash a $140 check, but instead was interrogated, the paper reported. That case ended in an “amicable solution,” said Rodal, who also represented Carroll.

Also in 2017, Jean Romane Elie tried to withdraw money for rent from a branch in West Palm Beach and instead was detained by sheriff’s deputies, according to the New Times. He sued.

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