A retired Detroit public school employee has filed a lawsuit against a Livonia’s bank branches for racial discrimination. Lizzie Pugh claims a teller believed her check was fake due her being African-American.
Pugh, 71, filed the lawsuit on Aug. 29, filed a federal lawsuit against Fifth Third Bank, National Association, Fifth Third Financial Corporation and Old Kent Mortgage Services, Inc. once employees refused to cash and deposit a five-figure check she got after hitting it big with the jackpot slot machines at the Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan Detroit Free Press reported.
Pugh went gone to the casino with her church on Saturday, April 9. Then she was shocked when told at the bank by three white employees that her check was fraudulent. Also, they wouldn’t be giving the check back to her.
According to the lawsuit, once she hit the jackpot Pugh decided to pay the taxes on her winnings at the casino. Then the casino gave her a check for a large portion of her winnings. The rest of the money was given to her in cash.
The lawsuit does not say how much Pugh won or the amount of the check.
Pugh took the check to the bank two days after winning with the hopes of opening a savings account. However, those dreams were ended once a bank employee called her into her office to question the check. After explaining herself to the teller, she was asked for her license and detailed about her employment. Pugh said she was retired, and the check was from Soaring Eagle Casino. The check included the casino’s logo, its address, and in the memo line: “SLOT JACKPOT.” The check included Pugh’s name and address, as reflected on her ID.
This wasn’t enough for the bank worker she believed the something was wrong with the check.
“She left the room. She came back and she told me that the check was fraudulent, and she could not give it back to me,” Pugh said. “I’m like, ‘Why? It’s not fraudulent.’ “
Pugh, who worked for the Detroit public school district for 36 years, said, “I couldn’t really believe they did that to me. I was devastated.”
Pugh says asked the bankers, “ ‘How do you know the check is not real?’ They just insisted that it was fraudulent … I was just terrified.”
Although she was being humiliated, Pugh said she didn’t leave. However, she waited to clear her name.
“To think that maybe they would have police coming and running at me — it was humiliating and stressful,” Pugh recalled. “For someone to just accuse you of stealing? I’m 71 years old. Why would I steal a check and try to cash it? I just didn’t think anybody would do that.”
Eventually, a second employee agreed with the decision by her co-worker, and again refused to return the check.
Pugh says she called her son, saying, “I’m not leaving without the check.”
“I told them I wasn’t leaving. You need to call the police. Or better yet, I’ll call myself” she added.
Instead of calling the police, the bankers called another colleague to look at the check. The third employee also believed the check to be fake.
Pugh still refused to leave, and eventually the bank decided to give her the check back. Once she got her check, she walked out into the parking lot and got her nerves together back together before she left.
“I was really, really nervous,” Pugh said “I had to sit there for a minute. I took a picture of the bank. I had no idea what the address was or anything like that. And then I left.”
The Fifth Third didn’t accept the check, however, Chase bank not far from the bank did with no issue.
Pugh told her niece Yolanda McGee what happened, who insisted she file a lawsuit.
“I told her, ‘This clearly was a violation of your civil rights,” McGee said. “There are laws in place now, where you can fight. Let’s fight this.’ ”
She said she told her Aunt, “Fifth Third Bank needs to know that they humiliated you. What they did was wrong. And they need to answer for this. I encouraged her. I said, ‘no, no, no, no, no. We are not in 1950s Alabama. We’re not in the Jim Crow era. We are gonna fight,’ ” she said. “ ‘No one’s gonna shame you.’ ”
McGee helped her aunt hire Deborah Gordon, a civil rights attorney, proficient in working discrimination lawsuits involving “Banking while Black.”