The New York Times released recordings of former NFL defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy being given the runaround when he wanted to secure “private client” status for $800,000 deposited into an Arizona JP Morgan Chase, and now the financial institution is facing allegations of racist practices.
Kennedy, who earned $13 million during his playing career, wanted the perks associated with the privileged status at the financial institution. Including travel discounts, exclusive event invitations and better deals on loans.
His $800,000 balance certainly met the financial criteria. He sought answers and already had an idea what the reason was, but wanted confirmation. So Kennedy met with a bank employee and recorded the conversation.
“You’re bigger than the average person, period. And you’re also an African-American,” the employee, Charles Belton, who is Black, told Mr. Kennedy. “We’re in Arizona. I don’t have to tell you about what the demographics are in Arizona. They don’t see people like you a lot.”
Racism within financial institutions in America has been well documented.
From Black borrowers being charged higher interest rates than white borrowers with identical credit scores to Black employees at the biggest financial institutions being denied the same career opportunities as their white peers.
The Times is also reporting that Kennedy’s agent, Ricardo Peters, says he was the target of racial discrimination from JP Morgan, and was ultimately fired becuase he is Black.
Peters was discussing a potential customer with his then-boss, Frank Venniro, after being accused of violating the bank’s code of conduct and being told to be aware of how his colleagues perceived him.
Peters voiced concerns that another adviser was trying to steal a prospective client; a black woman who had received a $372,000 wrongful death settlement after the loss of her son.
Venniro’s response was cold.
“You’ve got somebody who’s coming from Section 8, never had a nickel to spend, and now she’s got $400,000. What do you think’s going to happen with that money? It’s gone,” he said. And when Peters objected, Venniro refused to back down. He added, “You’re not investing a dime for this lady. It happens every single time. This is not money she respects. She didn’t earn it.”
Peters was transferred to to a JPMorgan branch in a “less wealthy neighborhood” and considered this to be because he is Black. When he filed a complaint it was ignored by Venniro and the company.
Peters was fired two months later over a technicality and disputes he did anything wrong.
Meanwhile, Peters’ firing put Kennedy’s funds in limbo.
Kennedy returned to the bank to further inquire about his private client status and continued to record his conversations with Belton.
“They’re not going to say this, but I don’t have the same level of intimidation that they have — you know what I’m saying? — not only being a former athlete but also being two black men,” Mr. Belton said. Referring to Mr. Venniro, he added, “You sit in front of him, you’re like three times his size — you feel what I’m saying? — he already probably has his perception of how these interactions could go.”
Kennedy asked Belton if he thought Vennior was racist.
“I don’t think any person at that level is dumb enough for it to be that blatant,” Mr. Belton replied. “I don’t have any reason to believe blatantly that he’s that way. You feel what I’m saying? Now, whether there’s some covert action? To be honest? I always err on the side of thinking that. You know, people that are not us probably have some form of prejudice toward us.”
Kennedy has since removed the bulk of his money from JP Morgan Chase and filed suit.
JPMorgan Chase issued a letter addressing Kennedy’s complaint. “You stated that Mr. Belton informed you that our firm was prejudiced against you and intimidated by you because of your race. We found no evidence to substantiate your allegations,” the letter said.