The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A black woman says Wells Fargo didn’t want to cash her check. She’s suing for discrimination.

(Christopher Dilts/Bloomberg News)

What Barbara Carroll says was meant to be a quick trip turned into a nearly three-hour ordeal after a Wells Fargo branch accused the 78-year-old black woman of forgery.

Carroll, who holds a doctorate in criminal justice and worked as an assistant bank manager for 17 years, last week filed suit against the country’s third-largest commercial bank, alleging racial discrimination. A Wells Fargo spokeswoman, Michelle Palomino, told The Washington Post that the bank is investigating Carroll’s claim. “Wells Fargo opposes discrimination of any kind,” Palomino said in an email. “We take Dr. Carroll’s allegations very seriously.”

In November 2017, Carroll says, she went to a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., branch of the bank to cash a $140 check. Carroll was asked by a teller to present two forms of identification, a standard company policy for non-customers, Palomino said. After she endorsed the check with a signature and a fingerprint, Carroll told The Post, the teller, who was white, turned her back and flipped over the passport and driver’s license to look at them. After waiting 30 minutes on a couch in the back of the building, Carroll said, she knew something was awry.

Carroll told The Post she went to the counter to inquire about the delay. Frustrated with the wait, Carroll asked the teller to return her identification and check. She refused and fetched the manager, Carroll said. The manager also refused to return her items, according to Carroll, and informed her that they had called the police, refusing to explain why they had done so.

After waiting another 30 minutes, Carroll told the teller to keep the check and give back her passport and ID, according to the legal complaint filed by Carroll. The teller refused once more and would not say when the police would arrive, Carroll said.

While standing in front of the teller, Carroll called 911, and officers came within minutes, according to the complaint.

After she provided the police with six additional forms of identification, Carroll said, the officers told the manager they had found no irregularities. The manager, who Carroll said had previously verified the validity of the check with its writer, placed $140 in cash alongside her identifications on the counter and left.

“That was really insulting to me,” Carroll said. “She did not apologize.”

Carroll told The Post she was disturbed by the experience. As a former banker, she said, she thought the manager’s behavior was irregular and inappropriate.

In the ensuing days, Carroll lodged a formal complaint with the bank’s corporate office. Carroll told The Post that a representative told her in a phone conversation that the bank branch, which is located in an affluent white area, was notorious for treating black customers poorly. Carroll told The Post that Wells Fargo apologized and placed the two workers in “sensitivity” training. Wells Fargo declined to confirm whether the two were enrolled in training.

“I was humiliated,” said Carroll, who said she thinks this happened because she is black. “I’m a human being, and I wasn’t treated as I should have been.”

“We always want to make sure we’re doing right by our customers, guarding against fraud and taking extra precautions to protect them,” said Palomino, the spokeswoman.

Carroll is seeking an unspecified amount of money, according to the complaint. She requested a jury to decide how much to award.

“It’s not really a case about damages,” Carroll’s attorney, Yechezkel Rodal, told The Post. “It’s more to raise awareness and hold Wells Fargo accountable.”

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