A Black woman in Michigan is filing a lawsuit against Fifth Third Bank after claiming employees discriminated against her for trying to deposit a check she won from the casino.
According to the lawsuit filed on August 29 in U.S. District Court for Eastern Michigan, Lizzie Pugh, 71, attempted to deposit a check at one of the bank’s locations in Livonia earlier this year.
While out with a church group on April 9, Pugh won a slot machine jackpot at the Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort in Mount Pleasant.
The lawsuit states when Pugh attempted to open a savings account at Fifth Third, three white female employees told her the check was fake. It also claims the employees reportedly made an effort to keep the check.
On Wednesday, Pugh’s attorney, Deborah Gordon, said that when the casino subtracted taxes from the $20,000 jackpot, the check was for approximately $12,000.
Pugh, who retired from Detroit Public Schools after 36 years, was allegedly raised in Alabama during the Jim Crow era.
“This is just one example of the continual hurdles and indignities that Black Americans face every day,” Gordon said.
A spokesperson for Fifth Third Bank said, “At Fifth Third, we are committed to fair and responsible banking and prohibit discrimination of any kind. Our employees are trained to help every person with their banking needs — customer or non-customer — while minimizing the risk of any potential fraud.”
The statement added: “From our review of the claims, we believe our employees’ actions have been misinterpreted. That said, we regret Ms. Pugh has come away feeling mistreated after her interactions at our branch, as our employees’ actions were consistent with our process and the dual goals of serving our customers while also preventing potential frauds that can victimize both the bank and our customers.”
Gordon claimed that Pugh, who is typically polite, stood her ground when the Fifth Third bank attempted to retain her check. The situation quickly ended when Pugh threatened to call the police.
Ultimately, Pugh ended up depositing her check at another bank.
“She was made to feel humiliated the way they treated her from the time she walked in the door when they told her her check was fraudulent. And then they took her check,” Gordon said. “That’s when Lizzie Pugh drew the line. She got out her phone and said, ‘I’m calling the police.’ They expected her to leave the bank without that check.”
Pugh told the Detroit Free Press: “I couldn’t really believe they did that to me. I was devastated. I kept asking, ‘How do you know the check is not real?’… And they just insisted that it was fraudulent. … I was just terrified.”
“To think that maybe they would have police coming and running at me — it was humiliating and stressful,” she said. “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.”