A Black doctor in Texas says she was humiliated last year when she was denied opening a bank account with a $16,000 check from her employer, according to a federal lawsuit alleging racial discrimination.
Dr. Malika Mitchell-Stewart, 34, recently completed her residency and was excited to open an account on Dec. 18. with a $16,780.16 signing bonus check from Valley Oaks Medical Group, according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday against JPMorgan Chase and two of its employees at a branch in Sugar Land.
Mitchell-Stewart’s sense of accomplishment, however, quickly turned into humiliation after workers at the location raised questions about the check’s authenticity and her employment as a doctor and ultimately accused her of fraud before turning her away, the lawsuit said.
“Dr. Mitchell-Stewart certainly did not expect that when she attempted to open a bank account with Chase and proudly deposit her first check as a new physician she would be accused of fraud and denied the ability to open a bank account at one of the more prominent retail banks in the world,” the suit said.
“What Dr. Mitchell-Stewart was reminded of on this day was that she is a black woman attempting to deposit $16,000 in a predominantly white affluent suburb. … Solely because of her race, Dr. Mitchell-Stewart was discriminated against by members of Chase’s banking staff and denied services provided to non-African American customers of Chase.”
JPMorgan Chase said in a statement Thursday: “We take this matter very seriously and are investigating the situation. We have reached out to Dr. Mitchell-Stewart to better understand what happened and apologize for her experience.”
Mitchell-Stewart’s attorney, Justin Moore, said in a statement Thursday that what his client endured is part of a bigger pattern of discrimination Black people face while banking.
“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,” Moore said. “Courageously, Dr. Mitchell-Stewart decided to not let Chase treat her like a criminal because she is black, and is seeking to fight back. … We all should be inspired by her resolve and willingness to fight back.”
Named as defendants were two branch employees who the lawsuit said prevented her from opening the account. The employees could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.
The employee who first assisted Mitchell-Stewart challenged the “validity of the check and her employment as a physician,” the suit said.
The employee, according to the lawsuit, said she had to verify the check and get a bank manager. She returned with a second employee, who, according to the lawsuit, was not the bank manager but an associate banker.
The second employee “told Dr. Mitchell-Stewart that her Check was fraudulent without providing justification,” the lawsuit said.
Mitchell-Stewart then left the bank to “avoid being arrested and had an adverse emotional reaction over this humiliation,” the lawsuit said.
Mitchell-Stewart returned to branch on Dec. 27 to file a complaint and spoke to the actual branch manager, who told her the bank could have deposited the check and held the funds until its authenticity had been verified, the suit said.
The branch manager, the lawsuit said, apologized but also said the bank can refuse services without any justification.
Mitchell-Stewart seeks a jury trial and more than $1 million in compensation and damages.