Banking While Black: More complaints of discrimination as U.S. Bank CEO promises change
Peter Wogbah did not know police were looking for him until an officer tapped the side of his SUV as he was about to leave the parking lot of a U.S. Bank branch in Bloomington.
For two days in December, Wogbah repeatedly tried and failed to get tellers to issue him a cashier’s check from his business account.
The 37-year-old from Edina flips houses around the Twin Cities and was requesting $30,000 from part of the proceeds of a recent real estate deal.
“I give my information, my ID, I say, ‘I’m here to withdraw some money,’” Wogbah said.
“She looked at my ID and then she checked in the computer and then she saw the amount and said, ‘How much are you trying to withdraw?’”
Wogbah says tellers at the bank repeatedly told him the money was “unavailable,” even after he called U.S. Bank’s 1-800 number to confirm the funds were wired to his account from the title company.
When he refused to leave, Wogbah says bank employees eventually told him to go to a different branch to get the cashier’s check.
U.S. Bank now says that should have never happened.
“We regret the frustration this caused the customer,” Cheryl Leamon, a senior vice president with U.S. Bank, said in a statement.
Leamon did not address why tellers called the police that day.
5 INVESTIGATES recently obtained body camera video of the incident, which shows officers questioned Wogbah in that parking lot for about seven minutes before letting him go and reporting that “no crime” had been committed.
“I’m sorry to say if it was a white person, that person is going to be treated differently than me,” Wogbah said.
‘Banking while Black’
Wogbah’s allegations of racial profiling are among the latest that fall under the national phenomenon widely known as “Banking while Black.”
Black customers across the country are sharing stories of being accused of fraud or having the police called on them for conducting simple transactions, including a recent case involving a Hollywood movie director.
In Minnesota, U.S. Bank publicly apologized late last year after 5 INVESTIGATES obtained video of a Black customer who was handcuffed and falsely accused of fraud for trying to cash his paycheck.
Millions of people viewed the video of Joe Morrow being questioned by police and a bank manager inside a U.S. Bank branch in Columbia Heights.
CEO Andy Cecere later promised expanded employee training after “recognizing the need to be culturally sensitive.”
But the Minneapolis-based company is now facing additional allegations of discrimination from Wogbah and some of its own employees, according to a review of police video, incident reports, and court records.
Cecere has declined repeated interview requests from 5 INVESTIGATES over the past three months.
In an emailed statement last week, U.S. Bank said it is now launching a newly formed advisory committee of Black leaders from the Twin Cities and “expanded training for conflict resolution for all branch and 24 hour banking employees.”
“I would like to see them back it up,” Wogbah said. “I think it’s important because we are all human beings.”
Complaints from within
U.S. Bank is also facing new complaints and lawsuits from Black employees who describe a culture of racial discrimination that reaches the highest levels of the company.
Shirley Hunt, a longtime manager from Lakeville, sued the company in February claiming it offers inadequate training on diversity and awareness.
“U.S. Bank pays lip service to the concept of diversity, but when it comes time to actually provide black employees the same perks that white employees enjoy there is no follow through for the black employees,” the lawsuit states.
John Span is also suing U.S. Bank for racial discrimination and retaliation after working at the company for 24 years.
He started as a teller for U.S. Bank in Illinois in 1996 and worked his way up to become a car loan underwriter before he was fired in July 2020.
Span says he was terminated after reporting concerns about a new manager to the company’s human relations department.
In the lawsuit, Span claims the manager would tell him, “Don’t go to jail and don’t beat your wife,” every Friday before the weekend started.
“At first, I felt kind of humiliated … I wanted to speak up (but I knew) that speaking up would jeopardize my way of making a living for my family,” Span said in a recent interview with 5 INVESTIGATES.
Span says he ultimately shared his concerns with Cecere when the U.S Bank CEO sent an email to all employees days after the police killing of George Floyd.
“We have to do better,” Cecere wrote in the internal email obtained by 5 INVESTIGATES. “We need to allow ourselves to be uncomfortable so we can have courageous conversations and learn from one another.”
Span said he thought that letter opened the door to a conversation about what he was experiencing in Illinois.
“All I asked is for the benefit of the doubt to look into what I said was going on,” Span said.
“Silence. No email, no response, no nothing,” Span said.
He was fired two months later.
‘A training issue’
Span says the recent allegations made by Black customers are not a surprise to him. In his lawsuit, he also details a system of what he calls “modern day redlining” involving Black customers who are frozen out of auto loans because of where they live.
“U.S. Bank has a history of this,” Span said. “There are just too many incidents that show maybe this is something that is systemic with them.”
U.S. Bank declined to comment on the allegations made by Hunt or Span, citing the ongoing litigation.
Renée Sattiewhite, a longtime trainer and executive coach, says such allegations of discrimination deserve attention.
“That has to be called out and people have to be fearless about calling that out,” said Sattiewhite, president of the African American Credit Union Coalition (AACUC).
Her organization received a $150,000 grant from U.S. Bank last year as part of its anti-racism initiative.
“Part of what our organization is striving to do is to bring everybody together. And so, in order to do that, you’ve got to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly,” Sattiewhite said. “I believe, in this case, being culturally sensitive is a training issue. You can learn to be culturally sensitive. You can learn what upsets people. You can learn what triggers people.”
The money was available
Peter Wogbah says someone from U.S. Bank called to apologize a few days after 5 INVESTIGATES first contacted the company.
A bank spokesperson said the bank’s internal review of the situation revealed an “inconsistency” in its wire transfer disbursement process and has provided clarity to all of its branch employees.
Wogbah says he is still considering legal action and is looking for a new bank to handle his business.
“I didn’t think I did anything wrong,” he said.
Tellers told police that Wogbah had been yelling at staff – an allegation Wogbah denies.
U.S. Bank has not responded to requests to release internal video from the branch that would show what happened before tellers called the police.
The body camera video of Wogbah’s interaction with police shows officers reported to dispatch that he was “cooperative.”
“I don’t know what the confusion was, but it didn’t go well apparently,” said one officer after spending less than a minute inside the bank.
Bank records confirm the money that Wogbah wanted to withdraw was available that day.
After police let him go, another U.S. Bank branch issued him a cashier’s check less than 15 minutes later.
“Whatever treatment I was getting, I didn’t deserve it,” Wogbah said. “I mean, it’s not like I was there trying to steal. It was money that I put in the account.”