Malika Mitchell-Stewart is a Black Houston doctor who filed a federal lawsuit against Chase Bank accusing employees of racism. Mitchell-Stewart, who recently completed her residency and started her career as a family physician, said she was turned away and accused of a crime when she tried to deposit a $16,000 check from her new employer in December 2021. You can read the lawsuit here.
Mitchell-Stewart, 34, filed her lawsuit against JP Morgan Chase and two employees of the bank’s Sugar Land branch in U.S. District Court for the District of Southern Texas on February 3, 2022. She is being represented by Dallas-based civil rights attorneys Justin Moore and Paul Stafford. Mitchell-Stewart is seeking $1 million in compensatory and punitive damages in the lawsuit, which accuses JP Morgan Chase, Trupti Patel and Shae Wells of violating the Civil Rights Act, which “forbids racial discrimination.” The incident occurred on December 18, 2021, at Chase Bank’s First Colony Branch.
The lawsuit says, “Dr. Mitchell-Stewart just completed her residency and started employment with the Valley Oaks Medical Group. As she embarks on her career as a physician, and throughout her career, it is a professional requirement that Dr. Mitchell-Stewart’s criminal record be spotless. She knows that to be accused of a crime would not only be damaging but it could derail a career that she is just now starting. Until recently, 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.
Moore and Stafford added in the lawsuit, “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.”
Chase Bank said in a statement, “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.”
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Dr. Mitchell-Stewart Says in the Lawsuit ‘She Was Humiliated & Treated Like a Criminal’ by Chase Bank Employees, Who Accused Her of Having a Fraudulent Check
Mitchell-Stewart, who lives in Missouri City and graduated from the McGovern Medical School at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Texas, said in the lawsuit she went to the Sugar Land Chase Bank branch on December 18, 2021, to open an account and deposit a signing bonus check from Valley Oaks Medical Group for $16,780.16. Mitchell-Stewart had recently opened a medical office on Braxton Drive in Houston, according to her Instagram.
She said in the lawsuit that because she was not a JPMorgan Chase account holder, she planned to open an account at the branch to deposit the bonus check and future checks. She was first assisted at the bank by an employee named Trupti Patel, according to the lawsuit. “After reviewing the amount of the check Dr. Mitchell-Stewart wanted to deposit, Patel began to ask peculiar questions about Dr. Mitchell-Stewart that challenged the validity of the check and her employment as a physician,” the lawsuit says. “After Patel’s odd inquiry into Dr. Mitchell-Stewart, she claimed that she needed to verify the check and get a bank manager.”
According to the lawsuit, Patel returned with another employee, Shae Wells, who presented herself as the “branch manager.” The lawsuit claims Wells is actually an associate banker and lead teller-operations specialist at the First Colony branch. “Wells told Dr. Mitchell-Stewart that her check was fraudulent with providing justification,” the lawsuit states.
According to the lawsuit, “Wells then told Dr. Mitchell-Stewart that she did not feel comfortable allowing her to open a bank account at the First Colony branch with the check because Wells believed Dr. Mitchell-Stewart was attempting to commit fraud. Wells refused to provide any alternative methods or means to assist. Dr. Mitchell-Stewart.
The lawsuit adds, “After being denied services at the First Colony branch, Dr. Mitchell-Stewart went home to avoid being arrested and had an adverse emotional reaction over this humiliation. After years of training to become a physician, she was humiliated and treated like a criminal after getting her first check after years of being in medical residency. As soon as Dr. Mitchell-Stewart showed employees at First Colony branch her check, they immediately treated her like a criminal. Even after Dr. Mitchell-Stewart showed employees at First Colony branch identification, emails between her and the clinic she works with along with her business card, she was still treated like a criminal.”
Mitchell-Stewart’s Attorney Said ‘I Will Endeavor to Show That No Bank Can Refuse Service to Our People Because of Race’
According to the lawsuit, Mitchell-Stewart, who completed her residency at the Dell Seton Medical Center and Dell Children’s Medical Center at the University of Texas in Austin, was “forced to go days during the Christmas holiday season without her first check as a physician. This caused her great anxiety. Dr. Mitchell-Stewart, accompanied by her mother, returned to file a complaint at the First Colony branch along with her mother on December 27, 2021.”
The lawsuit says branch manager Janice Brooks “admitted” Mitchell-Stewart that she could have opened an account at the branch on December 18, 2021, and deposited the check and the bank would have only had to hold the funds until the transaction was verified. “When Dr. Mitchell-Stewart expressed displeasure over why this was not done, branch manager Janice M. Brooks apologized, but then stated Chase can refuse service to people without justification.”
Justin Moore, Mitchell-Stewart’s attorney, wrote on Facebook, “For many black Americans, going to the bank can be a fraught experience. Something as simple as trying to cash a check or open a bank account can lead to suspicious employees summoning the police, causing anxiety and fear — and sometimes even physical danger — for the accused customers.” He added:
This isn’t a new occurrence for @chase. In 2020 a JPMorgan Chase employee had described a customer as being “from Section 8” and therefore undeserving of service. The bank has since said it would seek to increase its sensitivity to issues surrounding race.
The bank branch in Houston that discriminated against my client claimed that the amount of the check and who the person was trying to deposit it- my client- made them feel uncomfortable. My client left distraught that she was made to feel like a criminal and because she was unable to use her hard earned funds for Christmas shopping late that Saturday. Even with facing such humiliation, she returned after Christmas to file a complaint. Upon filing the complaint, the actual branch manager met with her. And even though she apologized, my client was told that the bank can refuse service for any reason.
Moore added, “Well, legally, that’s not true. And I will endeavor to show that no bank can refuse service to our people because of their race. #bankingwhileblack #blackeconomics.”
He wrote on Facebook, “Her practice is community focused and she is intentional on serving her people. This, to me, made what happened to her even more egregious. For her credentials to be questioned and for her to be accused of being a scammer is unforgivable. Only 3% of physicians are black women, and we as a community need to protect them when instances of blatant discrimination is used to belittle and diminish their status as essential professionals.”
Mitchell-Stewart added on Instagram, “I look forward to working with him to seek Justice for myself and so many others! I appreciate the outpouring of support and kind words. I also appreciate those willing to share similar stories with me about their negative interactions with Chase. Things must change and just because it may not have happened to you, it could one day so it is best for us all to work together and implement new policies and changes so that those involved are held accountable and this will not continue to happen!!!”
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