Black doctor sues JPMorgan Chase for racial discrimination aka banking while Black

In December, Mitchell-Stewart, who had just begun working for the Valley Oaks Medical Group, brought her $16,000 signing bonus check into the branch to open an account. Within minutes she was accused of committing fraud, The Washington Post reports.

Black doctor sues JPMorgan Chase for racial discrimination aka banking while Black

What should have been a happy day for Dr. Malika Mitchell-Stewart, a Black physician, quickly turned into a nightmare after a visit to local a JPMorgan Chase bank near Houston, Texas.

In December, Mitchell-Stewart, who had just begun working for the Valley Oaks Medical Group, brought her $16,000 signing bonus check into the branch to open an account. Within minutes she was accused of committing fraud, The Washington Post reports.

Mitchelle-Stewart is now taking JPMorgan Chase Bank, First Colony Branch in Sugar Land, as well as two employees, to federal court and suing for $1 million, alleging racial discrimination.

“The discrimination she faced is pattern and practice when it comes to Black people engaging with financial institutions in this country,” Mitchell-Stewart’s attorney, Justin Moore, said in a statement to the Post. “For a Black female physician to be treated this way by Chase is a devastating reminder that no matter how hard we try and how far we climb, major corporations in this country still view us as if we are nothing.”

Even after answering questions and showing her identification, the bank refused to offer any help.

“If I was a white male with that same check, I’m sure they would have verified it, deposited it, and opened an account for them that day,” Mitchell-Stewart told NBC News. “They looked at the check and looked back at me and that’s when they started to ask all these questions about what I did for a living, who gave me this check, what company is this, and how I old I was,”  she says. 

A statement from JPMorgan Chase officials reads that they’re “investigating the situation” and they “take this matter very seriously … We have reached out to Dr. Mitchell-Stewart to better understand what happened and apologize for her experience,” the statement adds.

Despite Chase’s denial, the bank joins a number of banks across the nation with a long history of discrimination against Black Americans. 

Recently the hashtag #BankingWhileBlack began to take hold.

In 2018, Clarice Middleton, who is Black, tried to cash a $200 check at a local Wells Fargo branch in Atlanta but was left accused of fraud by three branch employees, who then called 911.

Middleton told The New York Times she thought at the time, “I don’t want to die.” She ended up suing the bank for discrimination. 

According to her lawsuit, Middleton said she’d gone to a bank in an upper-class, mostly white neighborhood to cash a refund for a security deposit from a real estate company. She says three employees examined the check and looked at her identification and ended up declaring the check fraudulent before calling the police. 

At one point Wells Fargo claimed Middleton had yelled profanities at the employees. Her attorney says surveillance video shows the bank is lying. 

In 2019, Jabari Bennett went to a local Atlanta Wells Fargo to withdraw $6,400 to purchase a used Toyota Camry. He’d recently sold his house and was moving to Wilmington, Delaware. From the sale of his house, Bennett had about $70,000 in his account. Branch employees questioned his out-of-state driver’s license, even though he’d informed the bank of his new address just two weeks earlier. And just like that, the branch manager asked him to leave and threatened to call the police. 

The experience “made me feel like I was nothing,” Bennett told the Times. He ended up taking all of his money out of Wells Fargo and hired an attorney.

Benndrick Watson went public recently after he too was driven out of a Wells Fargo—after a branch manager slipped up and used the N-word.

Watson told the Times he was banking in a wealthy Tampa, Florida, branch when a manager made a serious and egregious slip of the tongue. 

Watson says the branch manager was entering his information into the system, including his social security number, when out of the blue the man uttered the N-word. 

”He just said it — clear as day, no mistake,” Watson said. “My jaw just dropped, I dropped the pen, there was silence, he kind of looked at me, I said: ‘Did you really just say that?’”

The man instantly began apologizing and denying he’d said it, but resigned his position shortly after the incident. 

“I felt like I had a knife in my gut,” Watson said. “It’s a sickening word.”

But the issue of banking while Black goes a lot deeper than trying to cash a check or open an account. The banking industry has been screwing over Black Americans for over a century.  

Believe it or not, there were once hundreds of Black-owned banks in the U.S., whereas today there are about 22 Black-owned banks in the country. 

“For the first African American banks, it was not only about serving as a source of credit for businesses and consumers, but also about providing training opportunities and jobs for African Americans, supporting economic development and, importantly, pride,” Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City President and CEO Esther George told Black Enterprise. 

Black-owned banks could also loan people money, while white-owned banks would regularly deny Black Americans loans via a method called redlining. 

Redlining cemented racial discrimination in housing thanks to a relationship between the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), which covered the insurance of over one-third of the U.S. mortgage market, the Brookings Institute reports. 

It all dates back to 1933 after the Great Depression, when the country faced a housing shortage. The federal government began a program to increase housing stock.

However, the government’s efforts were "primarily designed to provide housing to white, middle-class, lower-middle-class families," author Richard Rothstein tells NPR. Black Americans were left out of the new (segregated) communities when the FHA refused to insure mortgages. 

These racist housing policies have left deep wounds in American society. 

“The segregation of our metropolitan areas today leads ... to stagnant inequality because families are much less able to be upwardly-mobile when they're living in segregated neighborhoods where opportunity is absent," Rothstein says. "If we want greater equality in this society, if we want a lowering of the hostility between police and young African-American men, we need to take steps to desegregate."

As a side note, a couple of years ago I too had issues with my bank. It all started when I filed for unemployment while living in California. After waiting for over three weeks for my debit card to arrive, I called to see what was going on. I was told that the card had been used for a shopping trip to Target and multiple visits to McDonald's. I informed the bank that it wasn’t me, but since the card had somehow been activated, they refused to believe me. I was told I would need to file a police report, which I did, and supply them with an alibi about where I was on the day the card was used. Which I did.

Now, I’d been a Bank of America customer for years—like many years, as in I opened the account with money earned from summer jobs in college. And even while all of this was going on, I had about $10,000 in my checking account. I was being treated differently as an unemployed person than I’d been treated as a customer. On the phone with Bank of America, I was interrogated repeatedly. My speculation is that Bank of America made the assumption that since I was on unemployment, I must have also been some kind of fraudster. I have to wonder if things would have been even worse if Bank of America had seen my brown face in person. 

Frustrated, I wrote about my experience and posted it on social media. It had been weeks, and I’d even gotten a new job, but within 15 minutes of posting on Twitter, I got a call from Bank of America telling me that they’d made a mistake and I would see the money in my checking account by the end of the day. I took my money out and moved it to Chase. 

Now I’m wondering if I did the right thing.