When Onkar Sandhu first heard about allegations of racism against Lotus Bank, which recently opened a branch in Farmington Hills, the news caught his attention.
"When I saw it was directed toward Indian-descent, it kind of like grabbed my attention more, because I'm Indian myself," the West Bloomfield student said during a Thursday afternoon protest at the bank's 12 Mile location.
A small group, including Sandhu, West Bloomfield resident Jack Singh and two other high school students who declined to be identified, carried signs that urged bank customers to close their accounts to protest allegations of racism by some bank officials. Singh said he expected more people to show up later in the day.
The allegations stem from a lawsuit filed in March by Jasit Takhar of Canton and Anil Gupta of Troy over what they say is a history of hostile treatment from bank employees. Supporting documents included emails exchanged between president and CEO Neal Searle and Lotus Bank vice presidents Richard Bauer and John Westerheide that included the following:
- In May 2010, Bauer emailed Westerheide asking whether "any of the chimps from Lotus called him" in reference to Indian board members.
- in June 2010, Bauer received an email asking if he wanted tickets to an Indian singer's concert at the Pontiac Silverdome for his "Indian peeps." He responded, "Only if someone is going to detonate an incendiary device; if so, I will get tix for all of them."
- In July 2010, Bauer sent an email stating, "I will leave you with this sage advice from General Custer, and most Pakistanis ... the only good Indian is a dead Indian."
Read more about the lawsuit and the emails.
Singh hasn't been impressed with the bank's response. He said friends have gotten letters of apology from the bank.
"For them to say that they've disciplined (the executives) and given them a pay cut, that's ridiculous," he said.
Shortly after the 3 p.m. protest began, Lotus Bank posted a long note on Facebook that reiterated the bank's commitment to the Indian community. It read, in part:
"Recently, sensationalized reports in the media have attempted to tarnish the name of Lotus Bank and its connection to our community. Nothing can be further from the truth. Our success is rooted in our community, and it would be silly to think we would abandon the vision that has made us successful ... Above all, we built this bank to last and we will defend our reputation vigorously."
Signed by bank executives, the note pointed out that 80 percent of the bank's directors, more than 80 percent of shareholders and about 25 percent of commercial and personal banking customers come from the Indian community.