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Naperville woman sues Bank of America for discrimination over mishandling $24,000 check

Naperville woman sues Bank of America for discrimination over mishandling $24,000 check
Naperville woman sues Bank of America for discrimination over mishandling $24,000 check 03:59

NAPERVILLE, Ill. (CBS) -- A suburban woman fought with the Social Security Administration to get a decade's worth of back payments.

She finally won and brought the prized check to a bank. That set off a whole new battle. CBS 2's Lauren Victory looked into the situation.

Charlotte Warren received a check from the U.S. Treasury for more than $24,000 but getting that piece of paper was supposed to be the hard part. Bringing it to the bank should be a cinch, right?

"We should have had the police there to assist us with what was happening," said Shavonna, Warren's daughter.

The details of this puzzling transaction lie in a federal lawsuit claiming discrimination and other wrongdoing by Bank of America.

Warren said she brought the check to a Naperville bank branch on April 17. She went back the next day with her daughter to check on the availability of the money and got odd responses.

"I went over to the teller," Charlotte  said. "She said 'No, you don't have an account.'"

Shavonna added, "There's not much to figure out. It's a government check. It's easy to verify. Her funds should be available right now."

Charlotte said the bank told her "There's nothing we can do."

"There has to be something you can do," Warren responded.

The Warrens left the bank without the check, the money, or any answers about if or when they would get cash.

Just talking about the ordeal makes Charlotte emotional.

"After fighting for it all this time, I don't have anything," she said. "You can just take it and you're OK with it?"

Remember that it's Charlotte's disabilities, which include severe asthma, that led to that large check. She also told CBS 2 about what a bank manager told her about a possible reason for the hold on the funds.

"The biggest one that got me was [when the manager said,] 'Sometimes they have drug deals,'" Warren said. 

"Or criminal activities linked to large amounts," Shavonna said.

Making maters worse, Bank of America closed her account just days after opening it. After more than a month passed, the Warrens were still in the dark.

Where's the check? Where's the money? Why won't Bank of America return it?

That's when they got an attorney.

Charlotte's legal team, including Gail Eisenberg, tried to negotiate with Bank of America. But when the financial giant ignored them, they sued.

"We certainly believe it was intentional discrimination," Eisenberg said, adding "This is a U.S. Treasury check. So the circumstances under which a hold would have been appropriate are confounding."

"It's so frustrating to be Black in America and not be able to do simple things!" Shavonna said.

Eisenberg added, "Charlotte was put through the ringer in trying to simply get what was owed to her. She should not have to file a federal lawsuit just to get the money she's owed."

For a woman already on disability, where added stress can fuel her asthma, these last seven weeks have been a nightmare.

"I felt like I did something wrong," Charlotte said. "They made me feel like I was in the wrong ... and it's not right."

Finally, she got her money back, but it took 50 days, a federal lawsuit and CBS 2's inquiries.

Checks from the U.S. Treasury are usually available the next day, and federal rules suggest a hold is possible for up to nine days. The bank maintains its actions were "consistent with regulatory funds availability requirements," but CBS 2 could not find, and the Bank of America did not provide, any rules that allow a bank to hold a check for 50 days.

Bank of America said it regrets the amount of time it took Charlotte to get her money back. "Analytics" flagged her account and a spokesperson said those systems are in place to fight fraud.

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