Oshkosh man upset over denial of service at Associated Bank

An Oshkosh man says he believes his race might have been a factor in a bank's decision to deny him service.
Published: Sep. 27, 2023 at 6:18 PM CDT
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OSHKOSH, Wis. (WBAY) - An Oshkosh man says he believes his race might have been a factor in a bank’s decision to deny him service.

Sam Coleman was hired by the Oshkosh Area School District recently as assistant superintendent of instruction. But upon receiving his very first paycheck in July, he says Associated Bank refused to cash the check even though the check was drawn on their bank and the bank failed to follow its own policy on the procedure.

More than two months later, Coleman says he still doesn’t have answers after several conversations with bank officials.

We’ve seen stories across the country highlighting how hard it can be for people of color to cash a check without being accused of fraud. There’s even a term for it, called “banking while black” and now a Fox Valley man, believes he’s the latest to experience it firsthand.

It was July 7th that Oshkosh Assistant School Superintendent Sam Coleman says he walked into this Associated Bank Branch, on West 20th Avenue in Oshkosh to cash his paycheck, not expecting an interaction, which would leave him frustrated.

“I walked into the bank and just like most people I’ve cashed checks before so expected to have a very typical interaction where I was asked for an ID. If it’s a bank I don’t have an account with, I’m asked to present two forms of ID and then the check would be cashed. That was not my experience,” said Coleman.

Coleman says upon presenting his paycheck from the school district, which is drawn on Associated Bank, the teller summoned the assistant manager who said it was against the bank’s policy to cash the check.

“Again, I’ve cashed checks at banks before including Associated Bank and so I knew what he was saying wasn’t true,” said Coleman. “So, I asked what policy it was he was referring to. I never got a clear answer as to what policy he was referring to, just that he wasn’t going to be able to cash the check.”

Coleman says he was never asked for an ID, and the bank made no attempt to verify the authenticity of the check, which could have been done with a call to the school district’s HR office.

“It was just, a look at the check, a look at me and then the denial of services and now to add to that the denial of services was based on the assumption I was trying to engage in a criminal act and I would like to know from the bank, why I was assumed to be engaged in a criminal act,” said Coleman.

As a result, Coleman filed a complaint with Associated Bank’s corporate office, which led to a voicemail, being left on his phone, from John Halechko, Director of Branch Services who said:

“We did not follow policy, ah, for cashing on a check. These are checks that we have with a business or municipality, ah, so my apologies, ah, for not being able to negotiate, ah, the check for you. Ah, we absolutely can.”

Coleman says that message led to a meeting with Associated Bank officials and Oshkosh School District administrators, a conversation Coleman recorded.

“Well, let me say unequivocally that we will do what we need to do, and I completely agree with you. I agreed, I agreed with you since the day I talked to you,” Halechko is heard saying. “I understand that this is such a major, won’t use the word I’d like to... that this was so bad that it caused me... I, I don’t send emails with a lot of exclamation points ever, it was, it was bad and I understand how bad it is.”

We did repeatedly reach out to Associated Bank for comment, in an attempt to get their side of the story, but a spokesperson would only acknowledge that the bank is aware of the complaint, which is under review, and has nothing further to say.

What Coleman says he really wants to know, is why the bank suspected he was attempting to commit fraud, by cashing his paycheck.

“I can’t prove if my race was a factor in this situation but what I do know is, any person would expect to walk into a bank and be treated equally and be treated fairly and that just wasn’t my experience,” said Coleman.

Besides an apology for the incident, Coleman is asking Associated Bank to make changes, to ensure this never happens to another customer who happens to be a person of color. He did say after the incident, a different bank cashed his paycheck without question.